I, Tonya, the feature film currently receiving Oscar buzz for Margot Robbie’s portrayal of disgraced Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding, does not have a fan in J.E. Vader. Vader, a former Sports Illustrated reporter who covered the attack against Kerrigan firsthand for Portland’s Oregonian, has a strong recollection of the events that went down at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit in January 1994, and they don’t exactly jibe with the movie about Harding’s life.
In a scathing review of I, Tonya for the Oregonian, the reporter gave props to the film’s star-studded cast and the costume department and even admits that the first half of the film seems to get Harding’s early days right. But once the movie begins to focus on the attack against Kerrigan by a baton-wielding thug, Vader says “the film veers into fantasy.”
“This fantasy film is Harding’s dream come true.”
Vader takes issue with Tonya Harding being portrayed as a sympathetic figure, while Kerrigan is the “comic relief” in the film. The reporter describes two fictional scenes where Tonya confronts snobby skating judges and slams the film’s assertion that Harding and her then-husband Jeff Gillooly knew nothing about the planned physical attack, as well as the fact that the blame for the attack is put on Harding’s “bodyguard” Shawn Eckhardt, who is now “conveniently dead.”
Vader also wrote, “In reality, that bleak January 1994 Jeff Gillooly told the FBI that planning for the attack included discussions of killing Kerrigan, or cutting her Achilles’ tendon, before settling for breaking her landing leg and leaving her injured wearing a duct-tape gag in her hotel room — and that Tonya Harding was well in on the plans and impatient when Kerrigan wasn’t disabled right away.”
Vader also said the scene in which Robbie’s Tonya Harding is sentenced for her role in the attack and begs not to be banned from competitive figure skating never happened in real life. Instead, Tonya’s savvy lawyers wrangled a deal in which she issued a guilty plea to a felony for hindering the prosecution but skated away without serving any jail time. Harding received three years probation, 500 hours of community service, and a $160,000 fine, but it wasn’t until three years later that she was banned for life by the U.S. Figure Skating Figure Skating Association from “sanctioned” events for her involvement in the Kerrigan scandal.
While Tonya Harding’s claims of innocence were the center of the I, Tonya film, earlier this month, the former Olympian dropped a bit of a bombshell on the ABC News special Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story. In the interview, Tonya admitted that she knew Jeff Gillooly and his friend Shawn Eckardt cooked up a plan to injure Nancy Kerrigan ahead of the 1994 Olympics in Lillehammer.
In the interview, Harding revealed that she heard her husband and Eckhardt talking about “taking somebody out” to increase her chances of making the 1994 U.S. Olympic team.
“It popped in my head [that Gillooly and Eckardt were involved],” Harding said.
Tonya Harding has been enjoying the Hollywood life as the subject of I, Tonya. The former skater was even photographed with Margot Robbie at the Los Angeles premiere of the film last month.