Excerpt from The Tonya Tapes
Enjoying a popularity without precedent, the figure skating boom would continue for the next four years, but by the spring of 1999, interest in the sport was on the decline, and many assumed Tonya was invited to the nationally televised ESPN professional competition in October of that same year to give figure skating a much-needed ''shot in the arm.' Indeed, upon attending the high security event in Huntington, West Virginia, I witnessed the intense media coverage where some 48 news agencies had sent reporters to cover the competition. Vying with each other for interviews and photographs of Tonya were the usual tabloid media, including Hard Copy and Entertainment Tonight along with the more established press such as The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today, and CNN. Even Europe had dispatched people to report on the notorious skater's return to the ice.
Following is my first interview with Tonya, which took place in November, 1999, after she had skated in the event and prior to the infamous hubcap episode when her life would again begin to unravel.
How did you feel when you first learned you had been invited to the ESPN competition?
Well, when Michael (Rosenberg—Tonya's manager for much of her amateur career, her ''comeback' into skating in 1999, and for this book) called me in the afternoon—I was getting ready to go and teach, and when he called me, I was just ecstatic. I mean, I was in tears; I was crying. I couldn't believe that after all this time, it was really going to happen for me. And, I don't know, even to this day—it is still a whirlwind—it's just like, I can't believe that I got the opportunity, and I got through it, and I proved to myself that I could actually do it.
It was a dream, yes. To be able to come back and to be able to skate again, but in a different way—no pressures, just going out and skating and having a good time. Being in amateur skating, where you are training to win or to place, or to have a position to go to a next event, but this, even though it was a pro competition—first place, second place, fifth place didn't matter because I just wanted to go out and skate and have a good time and see all my friends and skate for my fans and friends and family.
Were you worried about how you would be accepted by the other skaters?
I was very nervous going to this, preparing for it and everything. Having four weeks to prepare and not knowing how I would be accepted by the other skaters...
Had you seen any of the other skaters (prior to the event)?
I had seen a couple of skaters over the past few years when they came to town for tours and things like that. And I took a trip to Sun Valley and skated (practiced) there for a couple of days and saw some people up there, and they were very nice to me. And, so, I knew a few of them would be nice to me, but I didn't know how all of them would be and whether or not they would try to stay away from me or be scared of me. When I got there, everybody was very nice and giving me hugs and kisses on the cheek. It was really nice to be welcomed back. Then the first day of competition, going to the rink and seeing all the media there—it was a very emotional time—from that point until I got through with that night ... and it was, I don't know.
I was crying during the afternoon. It was hard keeping the tears back seeing everybody and having people coming up and welcoming me back and saying, "I'm so glad that you're back" and "It's going to be great to skate" and "You will have fun."
It must have been more than relief. Did you feel that was where you were supposed to be?
I have always loved to skate, and that is all I wanted to do. Having my whole, entire career taken away from me by somebody else—not losing it myself—I do have blame, but when somebody takes your whole, entire life away from you, and you don't know what to do, it's like you're lost.
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Lynda D. Prouse and Tonya Harding and may not be reproduced without consent.