Was Tonya Harding's Mom Really a Monster? Here's What Skater's Childhood Friend Has to Say
Allison Janney might be about to win her first Academy Award for her playing Tonya Harding’s mother LaVona Golden in I, Tonya — but her portrayal isn’t exactly like the real-life woman according to someone who knows her.
Harding’s childhood friend Sandra Luckow tells PEOPLE that the movie stretched some truths when it came to Harding’s allegedly abusive mother.
“In some ways, I have to say that she was no more cruel than a lot of skating mothers at the ice arena,” Luckow says. “She just did it with a lot more honesty. Did Mrs. Harding yell at Tonya to get back on the ice? Yes, but so did every other mother also was pushing their child because of the expense. It was one of those things where families were making huge sacrifices to pay for ice skating, and Mrs. Harding in particular.”
She continues, “It was much more difficult for her to pay the ice time than anyone else. And to be honest, Tonya got a lot of help from a variety of people and Mrs. Harding was always grateful.”
Luckow knew the two through Diane Rawlinson, the figure skating coach she shared with Harding in Portland, Oregon when they were young. She grew closer to the former skater when she filmed a documentary on Harding, who was just 15 at the time and poised for skating stardom. The film titled Sharp Edges was released in 1986. (Luckow’s latest documentary, The Way Madness Lies, explores mental illness through a first person account of her brother.)
Harding has repeatedly accused her mother of often being violent towards her growing up, a claim portrayed in the Margot Robbie starring biopic. And despite Golden’s dedication to launching her daughter’s career, Luckow admits there were times where Golden got out of hand.
“There were incidents that everybody saw that were egregious. I was in a bathroom stall, saw it through the crack in the bathroom stall, went and told adults that I was going to report it to child authorities,” Luckow says. “And I was told that if I did, it would ruin Tonya’s skating career because she would be taken away from her family and she would no longer be able to skate. That’s the one incidence that I saw.”
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Another rumor Luckow disputes is Harding’s accusation on the ABC Truth and Lies special that her mother often drank coffee with alcohol in it.
During the special, Golden denied Harding’s claim that she drank a thermos in the mornings that was half coffee and half brandy before she took her daughter to school.
“I would have coffee and sometimes I would put brandy flavoring in it. I love brandy flavoring. You can’t get drunk on flavoring. Sorry to disappoint you,” Golden said.
While some laughed off Golden’s explanation, Luckow says that she remembers that actually being the case.
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“I remember her having brandy flavoring and I remember it not having any alcohol in it,” Luckow says. “I do remember one time that Mrs. Harding offered my mother some coffee from her thermos. My mother was allergic to alcohol, and she had several cups of coffee with Mrs. Harding that had brandy flavoring in it and she was fine.”
In the end, Luckow says she liked the movie but hopes people understand it’s not 100% accurate — and wishes Janney luck at the Oscars next month.
“I really hope that Allison Janney wins an Academy Award, but it’s for a fictional role that she played,” Luckow says. “And I don’t want to have the appearance that I am blind to the flaws of Mrs. Harding, because I’m not. But I’m also not blind to a huge amount of humanity that was there.”
I, Tonya is now in theaters.
More information on Luckow’s The Way Madness Lies can be found at madnessthemovie.com.