‘Dancing With The Stars: Athletes’: Tonya Harding Dodges A Bullet In First Double Elimination

As two sports stars strike out on premiere night, the fallen figure skater reacts to her lucky break.

Kelsey McNealABC

Tonya Harding wants America to know she belongs on Dancing with the Stars. The controversial Olympic figure skater, who was banned for life from the sport by the U.S. Figure Skating Association after the attack on rival Nancy Kerrigan in 1994, is in survival mode as she competes against other world class athletes on the sports-themed season of the ABC celebrity ballroom competition.

Harding and her pro partner Sasha Farber scored an impressive 23 out of 30 points for their premiere night foxtrot, but audience votes also came into play via a live viewer online voting system. Tonya Harding and Sasha Farber were told they were “in jeopardy” in the final moments of the Dancing with the Stars: Athletes premiere. But after a long and dramatic pause, host Tom Bergeron announced that Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson and Artem Chigvintsev and MLB star Johnny Damon and Emma Slater would be the first two couples eliminated from the competition.

After her near miss on the Dancing with the Stars premiere, Tonya Harding spoke to E! News about what it means to her to survive the first week of the competition.

‘[I’m feeling] pretty darn good,” Harding said. “I made it through the first one!”

Harding joked about her reason for wanting to stay on Dancing with the Stars.

“I’m finally learning to be a lady and learning how to dance. And I haven’t lost my last five pounds yet.”

Tonya Harding also gushed about pro partner Sasha Farber, telling E!, “He made me feel like I’m worth something on the dance floor, like I belong here.”

Farber said working with Harding is “a dream,” and he noted that she always arrives at rehearsals early. The couple will move on to Week 2 of Dancing with the Stars, where they are planning something special and “very different” for a dance that is “close to Tonya.”

Tonya Harding Sasha Farber
Featured image credit: Craig SjodinABC

Tonya Harding is by far one of the most controversial contestants ever to compete on Dancing with the Stars. But on the heels of the I, Tonya biopic which detailed her story of the 1994 attack orchestrated by her ex-husband Jeff Gillooly and Shawn Eckhardt, America is seeing a new side of the disgraced skater.

In an interview with Access Live, DWTS: Athletes competitor Kareem Abdul-Jabbar said Harding has been easy to work with on the dancing show.

“Tonya tries to get along with everybody,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “People make mistakes, and when you understand her circumstances, it will affect how you deal with judging her. I don’t feel I try to judge anybody. I wish her success and hope she feels good about what she does.”

While Tonya Harding is already working on her next dance, ousted contestant Johnny Damon has been benched. The retired MLB star and his partner, Farber’s wife Emma Slater, told E! their elimination is “bittersweet.”

“We felt great,” Damon said of his short stint on the dance floor. “Unfortunately not enough points, not enough votes and that’s the way it went.”

Viewers will now miss out on the couple’s second planned dance, a “sexy” Argentine tango.

And Olympic snowboarder Jamie Anderson told E! News she is “heartbroken” over her early elimination.

You can see Tonya Harding talking to E! about her Dancing with the Stars Week 1 survival below.

Dancing with the Stars: Athletes airs Mondays at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.