Who is Tonya Harding? Museum Is Challenging What You Think You Know About the Figure Skater
What really happened between figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan?
Viviana Olen and Matt Harkins, the curators of the THNK1994 Museum in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y., are looking to set the record straight.
“We have very real art, artifacts – we’re very passionate about it,” Olen told InsideEdition.com during a recent visit. “This is a safe space to come and explore the story and rethink it.”
Lining the walls of the THNK1994 – short for Tonya Harding Nancy Kerrigan 1994 – are dioramas of Harding’s triple axel, a first in figure skating for American women, and a wall of replica cereal boxes that feature a beaming Harding.
“These Wheaties boxes never went into production, but they were about to,” Harkins said. “We saw them on one episode of 'Pawn Stars' and what we wanted to do here was bring them back.”
A second floor of the gallery pays homage to Kerrigan, including a wall of her trading cards.
“They track her youth all the way up to the major moments when she was skating – medals along the way – and then even up to 1994 which, on the back, a diary entry [where] she writes, 'I couldn't compete this year, because of what happened.'"
In 1994, the figure skaters made different headlines than they were used to when Kerrigan was clubbed in the knee during an Olympic practice session, and Harding was banned from the United States Figure Skating Association as a result. She has always denied involvement in the attack.
It was later discovered Harding’s ex-husband and bodyguard had hired an assailant to break the leg of her greatest rival. All three men ended up serving prison time for the attack.
But Harkins and Olen say most news stories failed to mention Harding's alleged abusive relationships, hardships on and off the ice, and her battle to succeed.
“We feel that the story of Tonya and Nancy was so influenced by the headlines at the time, which for the most part were not really true,” Harkins said.
Their rivalry from early on in their careers – both female figure skaters breaking records in their sport – also added to the frenzy, Harkins added.
They "were from just slightly different socioeconomic backgrounds and that slight difference made all the world of difference in their sport," he said.
“It’s not a black and white story," he continued. "It’s so complicated. [Harding] was this amazing athlete and then because of the events that happened in 1994, she was turned into a total punch line, and so much of what she’d accomplished was taken away from her.”
The competitors now return to the spotlight with the release of the movie “I, Tonya,” starring Margot Robbie.
The museums’ curators, who have put together other galleries to spotlight pop culture icons including the Olsen twins, hope the renewed interest in the 1994 rivalry will help new fans rediscover who Harding really was.
"Tonya danced to the music that she wanted to dance to," Olen said. "She wore outfits that she made herself. She wanted so badly to be seen for her skill and ice skating. The world doesn’t just let that happen. It’s a myriad of things and you have to play the game, you have to fit into the mold and Tonya didn’t do that."