Following the release of critically acclaimed film I, Tonya, Tonya Harding’s time in the spotlight has changed drastically since 1994

By Maria Pasquini
April 13, 2018 01:00 PM
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Following the release of the critically acclaimed film I, Tonya, Tonya Harding’s time in the spotlight has changed drastically since 1994, when her rival Nancy Kerrigan was clubbed on the leg at a practice before the 1994 national skating championships.

On Friday, ABC announced that (after much speculation) the controversial figure skater, 47, would be joining the cast of Dancing with the Stars: Athletes.

Allison Janney, who won an Academy Award for playing Harding’s mother, LaVona, previously opened up about how working on the film, which portrayed Harding’s story in a sympathetic light, completely changed her view on what happened in what happened in 1994.

“I just wanted to give her a hug, ’cause back when we first heard about this story we were told what to think about her and we were told she was a villain. Actually, it was a lot more complicated than that, the story of what happened to her. And I think people come away with a lot more compassion for her,” she told host Ellen Degeneres last year.

After the Kerrigan assault, which was organized by Harding’s ex-husband and others, Harding pleaded guilty to conspiring to hinder the prosecution of what happened and was banned from skating by the U.S. Figure Skating Association.

Here’s a look at the former athlete’s return to the spotlight nearly 25 years after the infamous incident.

Credit: Frazer Harrison/Getty

Harding Prepares for Her Return to the Public Eye

Ahead of the December premiere of the movie, a friend of the former skater explained to PEOPLE how Harding was “getting ready to be seen again.”

“She’s eating well and has lost some weight. She’s getting in shape and is even skating again. She’s really excited about this,” the friend said.

“Tonya is a good person,” the friend insisted. “And she’s looking forward to having her story told sympathetically. She knows she’s not a saint, and doesn’t expect to be shown that way. But all she has ever wanted was for people to look beyond the headlines and see that she’s a real person who hasn’t gotten a lot of breaks in life.”

The friend added that Harding “has apologized again and again for something she did when she was 22 — something wrong and stupid. But she’s a woman in her 40s now, and she’s ready to reclaim her story.”

Credit: Bob Thomas/Getty

Fighting Back Against Being Portrayed as a Villain

A month after the film’s release in December, Harding sat down for an interview with ABC and slammed the media for portraying her as a villain in 1994.

“The media had me convicted of doing something wrong before I had even done anything at all,” she said during Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story.

“I am always the bad person and I never understood that,” she added.

Harding, who has long disputed allegations of her involvement in the attack, also admitted in January that she “knew that something was up.”

Asked if she told ex-husband Jeff Gillooly — who arranged the attack along with Brian Sean Griffith (then named Shawn Eckardt) and his friend Derrick Smith, who drove the getaway car — to go through with the plot, she said “no.” But, she said, she did “overhear” the assailants talking about how “maybe we should take somebody out so we can make sure she gets on the team.”

“I go, ‘What the hell are you talking about?’ ” she said, noting that she “absolutely” believes she was “a pawn.”

RELATED VIDEO: ‘Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story’ Trailer

Trying to Keep Focus on the Future

Despite her willingness to rehash the past with ABC, Harding almost cut short an interview with Piers Morgan on Good Morning Britain after the television host said Kerrigan had been the real victim of the 1994 incident.

Harding tried to keep the focus on her future and the sympathetic biopic.

“I respect you for trying to ask these questions, however I am really here just to talk about the future and what it means,” Harding told Morgan. “My movie now, to me, is going to help so many people to realize that it is okay to ask for help. It took me so long to be able to ask for somebody to help me. So that’s why I’m here speaking to you today.”

“Maybe it suits you to play the victim,” Morgan replied. “But I think the victim in all this wasn’t you. It was Nancy Kerrigan who had her Olympic dream shattered.”

After taking a pause, Harding responded by saying, “Thank you so much. I appreciate being on your show, but I think I’m going to have to say, ‘Have a good night.’ ”

Three days after the contentious interview, Harding’s longtime representative Michael Rosenberg split from her because, he claimed, she demanded reporters agree to not ask her about her past — or face a hefty fine.

In an email to PEOPLE, Rosenberg confirmed the news but declined to comment further, beyond noting his resignation was “because of a serious business disagreement, not a personal one.”

Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Her New Start

One of the predominant topics in Harding’s recent interviews has been the bright future she has ahead of her.

Speaking with The New York Times, the 47-year-old — who said these days she officially goes by Tonya Price — talked about her new life with her son Gordon and husband Joe Price, who, she met by chance at a restaurant in Washington.

A few weeks after the pair met, Harding proposed and got pregnant with their son almost immediately.

I had my son at 40, so the first half of my life I’m actually maybe getting a do-over, so that’s why I’m here,” Harding said during a sit-down interview with Good Morning America later that month.

Both the newspaper and the television show followed Harding to a rink in Vancouver, Washington, which she described to GMA as “my sanctuary.”

And while Harding told GMA that she has “to take things slower,” she said, “[I] want to get back and do the things that I love to do, which is my triples” — referring to a triple axel jump, which Harding made history with in 1991 when she became the first American woman to complete one while in competition.

The Inevitable Backlash

But while I, Tonya has helped to rehabilitate Harding’s image, not everybody’s a fan, including fellow figure skater and two-time Olympian Johnny Weir.

During a visit to PEOPLE Now in January, Weir said he didn’t “like that we’re almost accepting and glamorizing what Tonya Harding and her people conspired to do to a fellow athlete.”

“Had it happened to one of us, it would have ruined our lives,” Weir, 33, continued. “I don’t like that we’re kind of accepting that this happened and treating it like this circus freak show that was. It was two very real people’s lives.”

Weir explained that he felt the biopic told a false narrative that assumed Harding was the only athlete who rose from nothing.

“I didn’t grow up rich,” he added. “And Nancy Kerrigan herself was [from a] blue-collar family outside of Boston. She’s portrayed often as this ice princess who had everything and Tonya had nothing. But you know, it’s everyone. It’s blue-collar to fur-collar in every sport. And that’s something I think everyone needs to remember.”

“It’s not right to try to take your competitor out,” he continued. “You beat them on the field, you don’t beat them beforehand.”

Credit: Rich Fury/Getty

Hobnobbing with the Stars

Following the Golden Globe awards in January, Margot Robbie, who plays the controversial athlete in I, Tonya, told James Corden on The Late Late Show about how Harding, whom she brought along as her date, wasn’t afraid to walk up to Meryl Streep.

“Tonya anyway is very unapologetic about who she is and that’s kind of liberating sometimes, especially if you are at a fancy event because she just was not afraid to go up to anyone and say hi and get a picture,” Robbie said. “She was like, ‘Oh, there’s Meryl. I’m gonna go say hi.’”

Streep should take it as a compliment that Harding knew who she was because, according to Robbie, “she didn’t know who people were at all.”

“That was even more hilarious,” the actress said. “At one point she was like, ‘That is the lovely lady who helped me in the photo line at the beginning.’ She’s like, ‘Hi! Hi!’ waving, and I was like, ‘That’s Sharon Stone. Sharon Stone’s the lovely lady?’”

Credit: Rich Fury/Getty

Dancing with the Stars

Harding will begin her quest for the Mirrorball Trophy on April 30, when she’ll be paired with pro dancer and newlywed Sasha Farber, who recently married his fellow pro Emma Slater in March.

A source who has known Harding for years previously told PEOPLE that she’s capable of learning to ballroom dance but risks being compared to skating rival Kerrigan, who placed sixth on on season 24 of DWTS.

Still, “Tonya gets ratings. God knows, she gets ratings,” the source said.

Credit: Craig Sjodin/ABC

Season 26 of Dancing with the Stars premieres April 30 at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.