Tonight, ESPN is set to air a "30 for 30" documentary, The Price of Gold, which chronicles the Nancy Kerrigan–Tonya Harding scandal that rocked the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. Vulture's Lindsey Weber has a pretty terrific interview with the documentary's director, Nanette Burstein, who previously helmed the groundbreaking film The Kid Stays In The Picture.
Burstein said she told ESPN she would only make the film with Harding's involvement, because her story was the obviously more complex one. "What was remarkable [about Nancy] is that she was able to recover in six weeks and win a silver medal at the Olympics," she told Vulture. "But outside of that, there wasn't a lot of complexity to the story; whereas Tonya's story is enormously complex."
She grew up very poor. She had an abusive mother. She goes to escape her mother at a young age and marries an abusive guy. And she had this prodigious talent — she was the first American woman to do a triple axel jump. But she has the misfortune of being in a sport that was all about grace and poise and beauty, and she was inherently a tomboy. She couldn't conform to that beauty pageant style, and it's really the only sport that has that aspect to it — like it's from a pre-feminist era. Don't get me wrong, I'm a figure skating fan; I love watching it. But the more I learned about how things, especially back then, were judged ... it's so bizarre.
Burstein told Vulture the FBI believed Harding was involved in the planning of the attack, but they never had enough evidence to bring her to trial. And yes, she gets into all the bullshit about Nancy being the "ladylike" one and Tonya being the "tomboy" that the two had to deal with in the media:
It's funny because Nancy's trainer talks about how Nancy was also a tomboy when she started training her as a teenager, but then she let her bangs grow out. She started wearing pretty dresses. And she started winning! It's like her hairstyle changed and she was able to get some Vera Wang designer dresses and then she became what they call, "the full package." Nancy realized, "I have to change if I want to get to the top." Another argument to be made about Tonya, especially if you watch her performances, is that it's not like she didn't have artistry. She did have her own style of grace and poise. It was just not what was the norm at that time. It's not that she didn't know how to play the ice princess game, it's that she kind of refused to do it. Of course she wanted the success and all that. She wanted to beat the system. She was like, Listen, if I do a triple axel, they have no choice. They have to make me a champion. And that's what happened. Her problem was that her personal life got in the way, and she wasn't able to stay at that level, athletically, for the next few years. She didn't have the typical … she didn't have the grace and poise that they wanted to make up for that.
"The people who find her more empathetic are the ones who were in their teens or twenties at the time and had this idea of who she was from the media," Burstein said." The other people who didn't know the story very well, they're the ones who are like, Oh my God, why didn't she go to jail?"
Don't forget to also check out Deadspin's profile on Jeff Gillooly, Harding's ex-husband, too.