How Tonya Harding Tried to Cripple a Canadian Champion

Even 20 years later, there’s still an appetite for the Tonya Harding/Nancy Kerrigan saga. On Jan. 6, 1994, it seemed only the lives of Kerrigan and Harding where changed. It’s a lesson to never underestimate Tonya Harding.

Harding was well-documented train-wreck. Her wardrobe malfunction at the 1993 U.S. Nationals and her skate issues at 1993 Skate America were all signs of bigger things to come. She once received a bye from a regional event in 1993 because someone allegedly called in a death threat.

Meanwhile in Canada, Josée Chouinard clinched her third national championship and second Olympic appearance after a flawless performance. Her long program, to American in Paris, simply charmed the Edmonton audience. Going into Lillehammer, Chouinard was a legitimate medal contender, however, she placed eighth in the short program. She could not complete her combination since she fell on the first jump – a triple Lutz. If her short program, Piruetten, were judged today, the result would surely be different. Chouinard oozed with joyful choreography and seamless dance steps.

Harding, meanwhile, placed 10th in an error filled short program – a disappointment for the newly crowned U.S. champion.

The day of the long program, when Harding was called to the ice, she was nowhere to be found. Eventually, the cameras hunted her down. She was seen frantically trying to fix her skate in a tiny hallway.

Harding’s name was called over the loud speakers again, a clock counted down the time until Harding’s Olympic dream would end. With only mere seconds left, Harding was on the ice, still unsure about her skates: “I’ll break my ankle,” and “I don’t think it will hold me,” Harding said.

Sure enough, not even 20 seconds into Harding’s program to Jurassic Park, she popped a triple Lutz. Allegedly her skate lace broke. The referee told Harding to fix the skate, and she could redo her program after the next skater.

Josée Chouinard was instantly in the spotlight and headed towards the ice. She had little time to mentally prepare for this moment – which is critical. It’s like someone firing the gun before anyone is at the line. You don’t quite know what do to.

Chouinard took centre ice and speed towards her first jump – a triple flip. She fell. Chouinard flew through the rest of her program, banging out triples and doubles. Her spins were wonderful. She had one more spill on a triple toe, right at the end of her program. But, when she doubled-out on a triple Lutz the crowd clapped as though she landed a triple.

The crowd was behind Chouinard.

If Harding was trying to ambush her, or take her out of the equation, or whatever it is Harding does, she failed at that although Chouinard placed ninth overall and Harding placed seventh.

And then karma entered the arena. 

Thanks to the renewed public interest in figure skating, after the 1994 Olympics, skaters who turned professional could spin into a generous living. 

After the Olympics, Chouinard turned pro, and that December 1994, she won the Canadian Professional Figure Skating Championships – which she won four times.

On June 30, 1994, the U.S. Figure Skating Association stripped Tonya Harding of the 1994 U.S. title, and they banned her for life from the USFSA.

Chouinard returned to the amateur ranks for the 1995/1996 season, winning medals at two Grand Prix events – a silver at Skate Canada International and gold at Internationaux de France. With those two wins, she qualified the first Grand Prix final. Chouinard snatched a bronze medal – a feat only Joannie Rochette and Kaetlyn Osmond would match later. She returned to the pros, skating with Stars on Ice and professional competitions, and now Chouinard coaches out of the Granite Club.

Because Harding is banned, she cannot coach.

Ah, karma.

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