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Why Did Tonya Harding Go To Prison?

Tonya Harding is a controversial figure in the world of figure skating. She is best known for her involvement in the 1994 attack on her rival Nancy Kerrigan prior to the 1994 Winter Olympics. While Harding has long denied direct involvement in planning the attack, she did plead guilty to hindering the subsequent investigation. This plea resulted in Harding being banned for life from the U.S. Figure Skating Association and receiving a number of other punishments.

Harding’s legal troubles and controversial behavior on and off the ice have led many to wonder why she served time in prison. This article will provide a comprehensive overview of Tonya Harding’s crimes and convictions that ultimately resulted in her serving jail time.

Harding’s Early Figure Skating Career

Tonya Harding began skating at age 3 and quickly demonstrated natural athletic talent. She landed her first triple jump at age 12 and soon caught the attention of coaches and choreographers. Harding began entering novice and junior competitions in the mid-1980s.

In 1991 at age 20, Harding landed her first triple axel in competition, only the second woman ever to complete the difficult jump. She used it to win the 1991 U.S. Figure Skating Championships and placed second in the World Championships that year.

Harding was known for her athleticism and grit, able to complete difficult jumps despite a number of chronic injuries. She brought a new athletic style to women’s skating. However, she also developed a reputation for erratic and dramatic behavior during competitions.

The Attack on Nancy Kerrigan

Harding’s chief rival in the early 1990s was Nancy Kerrigan. Kerrigan was known for her artistry and grace on the ice, contrasting with Harding’s athletic power. The two were expected to be the top contenders at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

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In January 1994, one month before the Olympics, an assailant struck Nancy Kerrigan on the knee with a police baton after a practice session at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit. The attack severely bruised Kerrigan’s knee and forced her to drop out of the competition. Harding went on to win the event.

Investigations quickly revealed that the attack had been planned by people within Tonya Harding’s inner circle. Her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and bodyguard Shawn Eckardt eventually confessed to planning and carrying out the attack on Kerrigan.

While Harding consistently denied knowing about the plans, Gillooly said that she was involved from the beginning. Harding was able to compete in the Olympics while the investigation continued after the Games.

Plea Deal and Sentencing

With mounting evidence against her, Tonya Harding accepted a plea deal in March 1994 for her role in hindering the investigation into the attack on Nancy Kerrigan.

Harding pleaded guilty to the felony charge of conspiring to hinder prosecution. This included admitting that she knew about the attack after the fact, but took steps to hinder and delay the investigation, including:

  • Failing to immediately notify authorities after learning of the attack
  • Destroying evidence by discarding her conspirators’ notes
  • Lying to investigators by denying her knowledge

As part of the plea bargain, Harding agreed to resign from the U.S. Figure Skating Association, withdraw from the 1994 World Championships, waive any future participation in USFSA events as either a skater or coach, and agree to 3 years probation and 500 hours of community service.

Harding avoided prison time with this deal, but was sentenced to jail. The judge ordered her to serve:

  • 3 years of probation
  • $100,000 fine
  • 500 hours community service
  • $50,000 reimbursement for the prosecution’s legal fees
  • Mandatory random drug testing
  • 90 days in jail, though this was reduced to 30 days

Harding ultimately only served 1 week in jail for her crimes. But the plea deal and sentencing effectively ended her professional skating career.

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Post-Skating Life and Controversies

After the plea deal, Tonya Harding was allowed to complete a tour with a skating spectacle but was then banned for life by the USFSA. She had a short-lived boxing career from 2003-2004.

Harding has been married three times, most recently in 2010 to Joseph Price, with whom she has one child. She has taken on some acting roles and appeared on various reality TV shows over the years.

Harding remains a polarizing figure, with many still believing she knew about and condoned the attack on Nancy Kerrigan despite her denials. She has been criticized for profiting from her fame following the scandals in books, interviews, and TV appearances.

In recent years, some have argued that Harding was unfairly vilified, while her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly largely escaped public scrutiny. A 2017 biopic “I, Tonya” aimed to portray her in a more sympathetic light. However, Harding remains known for her role in one of figure skating’s most notorious scandals.

Table: Tonya Harding’s Crimes and Convictions

Conspiracy to hinder prosecutionJanuary 1994Pleaded guilty3 years probation<br>500 hours community service<br>$100,000 fine<br>90 days in jail (reduced to 30 days)<br>$50,000 reimbursement for prosecution fees
Disorderly conductFebruary 2000Guilty30 days house arrest
DUIApril 2010GuiltyFine and probation

Quotes on Tonya Harding’s Conviction

“Ms. Harding’s plea bargain comes as no surprise…We are disappointed that Ms. Harding did not tell everything she knew at the time of the attack, but pleased that she has now done so.” – Statement from U.S. Figure Skating Association

“She made mistakes, blatantly lied…but she’s not the monster a lot of people made her out to be.” – Choreographer Sandra Bezic

“I believe she made a deal to protect herself. In doing so, she also protected the people that hurt me.” – Nancy Kerrigan

“She’s become the new poster child for bad sportsmanship.” – Former Olympic skater Scott Hamilton

“She got swept along with the wrong people and made the wrong choices.” – Childhood friend Sandra Luckow

Why was Tonya Harding banned from figure skating?

As part of her 1994 plea deal for hindering prosecution, Harding agreed to resign from the U.S. Figure Skating Association and waive her right to ever participate again in USFSA events as a skater or coach. This effective lifetime ban from the sport was punishment for her involvement in the assault on rival Nancy Kerrigan.

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What crimes was Tonya Harding convicted of?

Harding was convicted of one felony – conspiracy to hinder prosecution in the Nancy Kerrigan attack investigation. She also pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in 2000 and DUI in 2010.

Did Tonya Harding serve time in prison?

Yes, though her original sentence of 90 days in jail for conspiracy was reduced to 30 days as part of her plea deal. She only served about a week in jail before being released.

How long was Tonya Harding banned from figure skating?

As part of her 1994 plea bargain, Harding agreed to a lifetime ban from participating in figure skating events as a skater or coach with the U.S. Figure Skating Association. This ban remains in effect nearly 30 years later.

Why didn’t Tonya Harding go to prison?

By pleading guilty to conspiracy and agreeing to cooperate fully with authorities, Harding avoided time in state or federal prison for her role in the assault on Nancy Kerrigan. Her plea deal resulted in just 30 days in county jail along with fines and probation.


Tonya Harding found herself at the center of one of figure skating’s most shocking scandals due to her involvement in the attack on Nancy Kerrigan in 1994. Though she avoided prison, Harding paid heavily for hindering the investigation. She was sentenced to fines, probation, community service and a month in jail, while also being banished for life from the sport she devoted her life to.

Harding remains a controversial figure decades later, with many still blaming her for destroying Nancy Kerrigan’s Olympic dreams, while others see her as an undeserving scapegoat. Regardless, her convictions permanently altered the trajectory of her skating career while also leading to lasting notoriety. Though she denied direct involvement, Harding’s poor choices and lack of honesty regarding the assault ensured that questions still linger about her true role.

Prison Inside Team

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Welcome to ‘Prison Inside,’ a blog dedicated to shedding light on the often hidden and misunderstood world within correctional facilities. Through firsthand accounts, personal narratives, and insightful reflections, we delve into the lives of those who find themselves behind bars, offering a unique perspective on the challenges, triumphs, and transformations that unfold within the confines of these walls.

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