Jeff Gillooly plotted the 1994 attack against figure skater Nancy Kerrigan so his ex-wife Tonya Harding would have a better shot at the Olympics.
On Jan. 6, 1994, professional figure skater Nancy Kerrigan was attacked at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. An unknown assailant struck her right leg with a baton, and a video of Kerrigan crying in pain on the ground became a focal point of the burgeoning 24-hour news cycle. It also put eyes on her competitor, Tonya Harding, and Harding’s ex-husband, Jeff Gillooly.
Police would soon discover that the man who assaulted Kerrigan, Shane Stant, had been hired by none other than Jeff Gillooly himself as a way to disqualify Kerrigan from the competition. And Harding, who initially claimed to have had no prior knowledge of the attack, later took a plea deal admitting that she knew about the planned assault.
In the years since, their story has been documented in Harding’s own authorized biography, The Tonya Tapes, as well as the 2017 Margot Robbie film I, Tonya. But while these stories, naturally, put Harding at the forefront, it was Gillooly who ultimately orchestrated the plot against Kerrigan — and he had a history of violence that showed he was more than capable.
Inside Jeff Gillooly And Tonya Harding’s Doomed Relationship
Jeff Gillooly first met Tonya Harding when she was 15 years old. Three years her senior, he served as an anchor when her home life was difficult and often turbulent.
As Harding would later recall to Sports Illustrated, her own half brother, Chris Davison, had come home drunk and tried to sexually assault her on the night of her first date with Gillooly. He was 26 at the time.
Harding’s own mother admitted that she “wouldn’t put it past Chris to try and get a kiss” while at the same time claiming that her daughter had “a tendency to tell tall tales.” She also slapped Harding across the face and accused her of lying.
Needless to say, Tonya Harding’s life at home wasn’t exactly a happy one. When she was 18, her mother — and her new, sixth husband — effectively kicked her out of the house. She had been with Jeff Gillooly for three years by that point, and the two quickly moved in together.
A year later, in 1990, Harding and Gillooly got married — in part, Harding said, because she wanted to be covered under his health insurance plan.
“I tried to talk them out of getting married,” Harding’s mother recalled. “I knew Jeff had a violent streak. Once when Tonya was living with me and my new husband, he tried to break down the door because he thought she had gone out with another boy. It turned out it was her brother she’d been with.”
Unfortunately, Harding’s marriage to Gillooly would also prove to be tempestuous.
In June 1991, she filed for divorce, citing irreconcilable differences. She likewise filed a restraining order to keep Gillooly from entering her apartment or any skating rinks, writing, “He wrenched my arm and wrist and he pulled my hair and shoved me. I recently found out he bought a shotgun, and I am scared for my safety.”
Harding reportedly seemed happier during her separation, and she even met another man she became engaged to. But she soon made a shocking announcement: She and Jeff Gillooly were getting back together.
“I know it seemed like I was happy, but something was missing, and now I know what it was. Jeff and I love each other more than ever,” Harding later said. “We’re going to get a counselor and work it out. I know he’s changed. I see it in his eyes, and I believe in him.”
Gillooly and Harding went on to officially divorce in 1993, but in early 1994, they were once again attempting to reconcile.
Jeff Gillooly Orchestrates The “Whack Heard ‘Round The World”
By January 1994, Tonya Harding was making quite a name for herself in the professional figure skating world. In fact, both she and fellow skater Nancy Kerrigan were competing for a spot at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Norway.
Along with the fame, a champion skater at the Olympics was likely to make more than $1 million in endorsements and appearance fees after the fact. It’s enough money to make anyone salivate, but for Jeff Gillooly and some of his closest friends, it was an amount they’d be willing to break knees over.
According to the Detroit Free Press, it was in late December 1993 that Gillooly devised a plan to force Kerrigan out of the competition, thus securing a direct route for Harding to enter the 1994 Olympics.
A number of options for “dealing” with Kerrigan were put forth, including staging a car crash to maim her or hiring a sniper to kill her. Ultimately, though, the group — composed of Jeff Gillooly, Shane Stant, Derrick Smith, and Harding’s bodyguard Shawn Eckardt — decided to smash her knee with an iron bar.
It was decided then that Stant would be the one to strike, with Smith waiting nearby as a getaway driver.
Stant made his move on Jan. 6, waiting as Nancy Kerrigan was finishing up her practice routine for the competition, which was just a few days away. Cameras rolled on Kerrigan as she walked off the ice, but the moment they stopped recording, Stant leaped out with a telescopic baton and struck her leg before fleeing.
He was in such a panic that he missed his target and hit Kerrigan’s lower thigh instead. She was badly bruised, but the injury wasn’t the devastating blow to her figure skating career that Jeff Gillooly and his associates had plotted.
The cameras turned back on then, quickly capturing the immediate aftermath: a seriously injured Kerrigan lying on the floor, crying and screaming, “Why? Why? Why?”
The attack was intended to force Kerrigan to withdraw from both the U.S. Championships and the Winter Olympics, and while she was in no shape to compete in the U.S. Championships, she thankfully recovered in time to compete in the latter event — alongside Harding.
Of course, by then, a criminal investigation into the incident was already well underway, and more shocking revelations were yet to come.
How Much Did Tonya Harding Know About The Assault On Nancy Kerrigan?
When police initially began investigating the assault, they quickly learned of the roles Stant, Eckardt, Smith, and Jeff Gillooly played in it. The question was: How involved was Tonya Harding?
At first, she claimed to have no knowledge of the plot. In fact, she even claimed that Gillooly and “two other men” had raped her at gunpoint and threatened her if she said anything about their plan.
But once the men were in court, things changed. Three of the four — all except Gillooly — were willing to cut plea deals in exchange for lesser sentences. And as the Washington Post reported at the time, both Eckardt and Gillooly indicated that Tonya Harding knew about the plot before it happened.
Eckardt claimed that Harding had told him, “You need to stop screwing around with this and get it done,” in reference to the assault on Nancy Kerrigan. He also said that Jeff Gillooly had offered him a bonus check of $10,000 if he carried out the attack immediately.
The Post would then release another report two months later, writing that Harding herself had admitted guilt in a plea deal in order to avoid prison. As a result, she was also required to resign from a championship competition in Japan and surrender her membership with the U.S. Figure Skating Association.
Of course, Harding’s lawyer tried to spin the situation, saying, “She’s not going to plead guilty to it, but I think the facts speak for themselves.”
In any case, Gillooly certainly received the harshest punishment of anyone involved. He was sentenced to two years in prison despite his attorney’s request for a shorter sentence due to how cooperative Gillooly had been with investigators.
The judge denied this request, telling Gillooly that he was “a prime example of how ruthless ambition and raw greed can disrupt, degrade, and disfigure a sport of grace even to the height of the Olympics.”
After his release from prison, Jeff Gillooly legally changed his surname to Stone, shaved his iconic mustache, and seemed determined to put his life behind him. In more recent interviews, he expressed regret over convincing Harding to go along with the plan and tarnishing her name, but he has never downplayed his involvement in the plot or denied it outright.
After reading about Jeff Gillooly, Tonya Harding’s ex-husband, go inside the death of Nancy Spungen, Sid Vicious’ doomed girlfriend. Or, learn about Jeff Pelley, the 17-year-old who murdered his family in cold blood — and then went to prom immediately after.