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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

January 6, 1994

Welcome to the very first Tuesday Timeline of the year!

While I have decided that I am changing the focus and the format of this blog for the year 2015, one thing that I am keeping for the foreseeable future is the Tuesday Timeline entry.  I've always been a pop culture history buff, and back in the days in which I used to do theme days, Tuesday blogs were always the most fun to write.

So, let us see what happened throughout history on January 6, shall we?

1412 - It is estimated that French saint Joan of Arc (d. 1431) is born on this date

1540 - King Henry VIII marries Anne of Cleves

1838 - In what is to become the forerunner of Morse code, Alfred Vail demonstrates a telegraph system that uses dashes and dots

1839 - Dublin, Ireland is devastated by the most damaging storm in three centuries, flattening one-fifth of the city

1912 - New Mexico becomes the 47th state to join the United States

1929 - Mother Teresa arrives in Calcutta, India to begin her work treating the nation's sickest and poorest people

1930 - Actor Vic Tayback (d. 1990) is born in Brooklyn, New York

1931 - Thomas Edison submits his final patent application - he would pass away in October

1941 - In his State of the Union address, Franklin D. Roosevelt delivers his "Four Freedoms" speech

1944 - Actress Bonnie Franklin (d. 2013) is born in Santa Monica, California

1960 - National Airlines Flight 2511 is blown up by a bomb enroute from New York to Miami, killing everyone aboard

1974 - Because of the 1973 Energy Crisis, daylight savings time begins three and a half months early in the United States

1978 - The Crown of St. Stephen is returned to Hungary from the United States - the crown had been held on American soil since the second World War

1993 - Singer-songwriter and trumpet player Dizzy Gillespie passes away at the age of 75

2000 - The last surviving Pyranean Ibex is found dead, making the species extinct

2006 - Singer Lou Rawls passes away at the age of 72

And for famous birthdays, we have the following turning one year older; George H. Ross, Dickie Moore, Terry Venables, Trudie Styler, Rowan Atkinson, Angus Deayton, Scott Bryce, Nigella Lawson, Howie Long, John Singleton, Norman Reedus, Julie Chen, Gabrielle Reece, Johnny Yong Bosch, Danny Pintauro, Tara Spencer-Nairn, Camila Grey, Tiffany "New York" Pollard, Kate McKinnon, and Lil Reese.

So, what date will we go back in time to this week?  Well, I thought that we would give the 1990s a try.

How about January 6, 1994?

Now, let's see...I should remember this date well.  I was twelve and a half years old, and I was mid-way through the seventh grade.  Oh, and one other detail I remember quite well.  That was the year that the Olympics were held during the winter months.

It was a big deal to have the Winter Olympics in 1994.  It was the very first time in history that the Olympics were held on a non-leap year.  Prior to that, the Winter Olympics were held in leap years (1992, 1988, 1984), the same as the Summer Olympic Games.

The host city that year was Lillehammer, Norway, and the games lasted from February 12-27, 1994.  Sixty-seven countries participated in the games with over 1,700 athletes competing in all.  Of course, Norway won the most medals overall with twenty-six in total, but Russia had the most gold medals won with eleven.

For the record, my country of Canada was seventh overall.  Three gold, six silver, four bronze, making a baker's dozen.  Good job, Canada!

So, if the Winter Olympics didn't begin until February 12, what makes January 6, 1994 so important?

Well, one month before the Winter Olympics, a shocking event took place after a practice session for the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championship.  Two women who had both been selected to join the American figure skating team for the 1994 Winter Olympics were at the center of the controversy when one woman was accused of orchestrating an attack on the other woman which could have completely jeopardized her chances of competing.  Twenty-one years later, people still remember the incident that happened, as well as the two women who were at the center of everything.  In today's Tuesday Timeline, we'll look over the events that lead up to January 6, 1994, how it all went down, and what became of the two women since.

This is the story of a rivalry gone bad.  This is the story of Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

Now, prior to 1994, just looking at the statistics of both women, both Kerrigan and Harding were shoo-ins to make the team just based on performance alone.

Let's take a look at Tonya Harding's stats before January 1994, shall we?  Harding began skating when she was just three, and by the time she was twelve, she had already begun competing in skating competitions.  She started competing in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in 1985, when Harding was just fifteen. 

Now, Tonya had always been a strong competitor in figure skating, but her biggest year was 1991.  Not only did she win the gold medal in that tournament, but during one of her performances, she became the first woman in figure skating history to successfully complete a triple axel jump.  Her performance was good enough for her to land a spot in the 1991 World Figure Skating Championship, in which she placed third overall.  She was also one of the athletes who represented the American figure skating team at the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France, where she placed fourth.

She also won the bronze in the 1989 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, as well as in 1992, and in 1993, she won the pewter.  However, by January 1994, she was well on her way to winning her second U.S. Figure Skating Championship title.  But although she was competing against several other talented female figure skaters, there was one who seemed to be her biggest rival.

And it is easy to see how Harding could have been intimidated by Nancy Kerrigan.  Kerrigan, a year older than Harding, began skating at the age of six.  In 1985, Kerrigan began competing in the U.S. National Figure Skating Championship, and though she started off slow, by the beginning of the 1990s, she was quickly finding her groove.  She won the pewter in 1990, the bronze in 1991, the silver in 1992, and the gold in 1993.  She was well on her way to taking a second consecutive gold by the time 1994 arrived.  She also competed in the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, where unlike Harding, she won the bronze medal for figure skating.

Now, just to put into perspective how important the U.S. Figure Skating Championships were in relation to the Winter Olympics, the American Olympic team is selected based on the performances of the athletes during the U.S. Figure Skating competition.  Anyone who received the gold medal automatically got a spot on the team.

So, when the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships were held in Detroit, Michigan from January 4-8, 1994, it was almost expected that either Kerrigan, Harding, or relative newcomer Michelle Kwan would be gunning for gold.

But nobody expected what would happen on January 6, 1994, when after a practice session for the women's competition, a man struck Nancy Kerrigan just above the knee with a police baton.

I can only imagine the physical pain that Kerrigan went through, and certainly everyone who owned a television set in 1994 could see for themselves how devastating it was for Kerrigan.  The six o'clock news played footage of the aftermath of the attack for weeks after it happened. 

The man responsible for "The Whack Heard Round The World" was Shane Stant, who had been hired by two men to put Kerrigan out of commission for the Figure Skating championships, and to potentially prevent her from competing in the 1994 Winter Olympics. 

Those two men?  Jeff Gillooly and Shawn Eckhart.  The then-husband and bodyguard of Kerrigan's rival, Tonya Harding!

Obviously, Kerrigan was still in too much pain to continue with the competition and was forced to withdraw.  And initially, Tonya Harding proclaimed her innocence, claiming that she had nothing to do with the attack, which did not stop her from winning the gold medal in the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.  However, the story did not end there.

You see, Kerrigan, despite her injury, recovered very quickly, and ended up being chosen by the United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) to fill one of the two spots that were available on the American Olympic team despite Michelle Kwan winning the silver medal in the championships.  This would prove ironic, as the other spot had been filled by Harding who had won the gold.  But her determination to compete in the Olympics that year and to rise above her injury caused her to train twice as hard so she could be in tip-top shape, and she won the silver medal in figure skating at the Olympics.  Tonya Harding placed a disappointing eighth overall.

But that wasn't the only disappointment that Harding would have.  It was later revealed that Harding - while she didn't take part in the actual assault on Kerrigan - knew of the attack prior to it taking place and tried to cover up her involvement.  Her 1994 gold medal from the U.S. Figure Skating Championship was stripped from her, and she was banned from taking part in any future event run by the USFSA, effectively ending her figure skating career.

In the end, one event sparked by jealousy and insecurity caused a lot of lives to be ruined, and destroyed the career of a once respected figure skater. 

So, what happened to the people in the story since January 1994?

Well, Kerrigan retired from professional figure skating the same year she won the silver medal at the Olympics, and while she did have some minor controversy regarding some comments that she made about figure skater Chen Lu and Mickey Mouse (believe it or not), Kerrigan, for the most part, has lived a quiet life.  She has appeared in a few "Ice Wars" competitions, and participated in 2006's "Skating With Celebrities".  She wrote a book entitled "Artistry on Ice", and served as a correspondent for "Entertainment Tonight" during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.  She has also gotten married to Jerry Solomon, and has three children.  And in 2004, she was inducted into the United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame.

Harding's path has taken on a very different route.  After being banned from figure skating and admitting her role in the attack on Kerrigan, Harding pleaded guilty of conspiracy of hindering prosecution of the attackers in March 1994 and was given three years probation, 500 hours of community service, and a fine of $160,000.  Everybody else who took part in the crime, including Gillooly, Eckhardt, Stant, and getaway car driver Derrick Smith, served a prison sentence. 

Harding divorced Gillooly shortly after the Winter Olympics, and Gillooly released a sex tape of him and Harding to a tabloid television show.  She attempted to go into the world of boxing in 2002, but that career only lasted a couple of years.

Randomly, Harding set an automobile racing land speed record in August 2009 when she raced a vintage 1931 Ford Model A at the Bonneville Salt Flats. 

And, Harding also became a mother in 2011, giving birth to a son with her third husband, whom she married in 2010.

It's hard to believe that it has been 21 years since that incident took place.  And it is one incident that could be considered a double edged sword of sorts.  On the one hand, the events of January 6, 1994 caused a sudden interest in figure skating, and watching Kerrigan come back from a terrible incident to a second place finish at the Winter Olympics likely inspired a lot of young girls to follow their dreams of becoming professional figure skaters.

On the other hand, it's a shame that an incident like this marred the U.S. Figure Skating Championships and to a lesser extent, the 1994 Winter Olympics, as the media coverage seemed to put the attack at a higher priority than the athletes who were competing.

All in all, what the events of January 6, 1994 taught us is that jealousy is one ugly monster that should never be unleashed, and that no good can ever come out of being jealous of someone else.  However, since I try to look at the good in everything, the events of January 6, 1994 also taught us that if one is knocked down, then we can get right back up and be better than we ever were before.

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