I, Tonya: The Most Reviled Figure Skater in History

Posted on at

To succeed in our chosen path is the biggest goal we work so hard to achieve. However, the road to success is not easy especially when you get discriminated just like the story of Tonya Harding in the film—I, Tonya.


(image source: IMDb)

I, Tonya is a biography, drama, comedy film directed by Craig Gillespie, produced by Tom Ackerley, Margot Robbie, Steven Rogers, and Bryan Unkeless. The film was also written by Steven Rogers. It was distributed by Neon and 30 West, and was released on the 19th of January 2018. The movie was based from the life story of Tonya Harding.

The film stars Margot Robbie (Tonya Harding), Sebastian Stan (Jeff Gillooly), Allison Janney (LaVona Golden), Julianne Nicholson (Diane Rawlinson), Caitlin Carver (Nancy Kerrigan), and Paul Walter Hauser (Shawn Eckardt). The film had an $11 million budget and earned a worldwide gross of $53 million.

I, Tonya won several awards especially for the performances of Margot Robbie and Allison Janney. Margot Robbie won Best Actress at AACTA International Awards, Florida Film Critics Circle Awards, and more. She also won Bravest Performance at the Alliance of Women Film Journalists. Meanwhile, Allison Janney bagged several Best Supporting Actress awards such as in the Academy Awards, Golden Globe Awards, BAFTA Awards, Hollywood Film Awards, and more. (See full list of awards and nominations HERE.


(video source: Craig_Gillespie via bitLanders)

Tonya Harding had been figure skating since she was around four years old. Her mother, LaVona, enrolled her to an figure skating lesson to which coach Diane refused to take her in her class because she was too young, but accepted her after seeing that she could skate. Tonya won her first competition at the age of four, six months after she entered figure skating lesson. However, she was abused physically and psychologically by her mother, which her mother refers to as a way to train her to become a skating champion. LaVona also pulled her daughter out of school to let her daughter concentrate on skating.

(image source: NEON via itonyamovie)

At the age of fifteen, Tonya met Jeff, who became her friend then boyfriend. They soon married but the once happy relationship quickly turned to an abusive and an emotional roller coaster relationship. She continued joining competitions but felt like she doesn't get the scores she deserve. Confronting one of the judges after her performance, Tonya was told that despite her great skills, she has a bad choice for music and costume. And out of her rage, she fired her coach Diane. Later on, coach Diane was replaced by Dody Teachman.

(image source: NEON via itonyamovie)

Tonya could often do her skating routine better when she was put down or verbally abused instead of hearing none. Her mother even paid a man to yell mean things at her before a competition. In the 1991 Nationals at Minnesota, Tonya who was 20 years old back then, did the triple axel which made her the first American to do a triple axel. Success followed after and she reached the peak of her career. However, her success didn't last long. Her next performances was on a fail streak causing her career to end. She became a waitress after her skating career went down. One day, her former coach visited Tonya to tell her about the Olympics and convinced her to return to skating. On the competitions she joined before the Olympics, Tonya asked again one judge regarding the unfair scoring. The judge then told that Tonya doesn't fit the image they want to represent the country.

(image source: NEON via itonyamovie)

Later on, Tonya receives a death threat which was unknowingly from Shawn, Jeff's friend and a self-proclaimed bodyguard of Tonya. Seeing Tonya affected by the death threat, Jeff asked Shawn to help him send a death threat letter to Nancy Kerrigan, Tonya's longtime rival and friend. Shawn went beyond of his job and hired men to physically hurt Nancy. On January 6th of 1994, during a practice for the 1994 National in Detroit, Michigan, Shane Stant (one of Shawn's men) hit Nancy's knee with a police baton. Nancy was injured, screaming in pain, and the news about it spread like wildfire.

(image source: NEON via itonyamovie)

Shawn's men were caught by the police while Shawn was tracked by the FBI due to bragging what he did. Tonya then went to the FBI to tell that Jeff was involved with the incident. Jeff was arrested and Tonya publicly apologized and cleared herself from the incident since she was told it was the best thing to do.

(image source: NEON via itonyamovie)

During the Winter Olympics in 1994, Tonya ended up in 8th place while Nancy, who quickly recovered from the incident, won the silver medal. Tonya mentioned that Nancy's smile was like she stepped on poop, where Tonya was the poop. After the Olympics, Tonya's trial pursued and she was sentenced to three years probation, $160,000 fine, 500 hours community service, psychological evaluation, and was banned to join skating competitions for life. Not being able to do skating, Tonya shifted sports and became a lady boxer. Today, Tonya does professional landscaping, deck building, and house painting. She is now also happily married and has a 7 year old son.



The film has a lot of beautiful shots but the one that I love most was on her performance at the 1991 Nationals. The camera was on the ground which focused Tonya’s face when she bent down for her intro pose. She was also staring at the camera, making me feel a sudden connection of what she feels at the moment. The camera then moved up over her head as she raised her hand. I really love these parts it was so dramatic and added beauty to her performance. Of course, the close up shots of her feet while skating is a must to clearly show her suave foot works while gliding on the ice. The wide shot of the skating rink while showing Tonya skating from afar also looks magnificent. There was also the scene when Tonya left Jeff and the camera moved around the house the out the door, then to the road. That was a creative way of showing Tonya moving out from her abusive relationship with Jeff.


(video source: Vanity Fair via Youtube)

Tonya Harding is one of the few who can only do the triple axel jump and so finding one who could do it for the film is impossible. To achieve the triple axel jump, the film used visual effects. It's so amazing, all along I thought Margot really did the triple axel. It looked so real. Oh, the wonders of technology! For the other difficult stuns, they hired two doubles to do it. Scenes and even their faces were edited to become Margot.

For the slow motion part, they used a special camera called the Phantom camera to capture the movement in detail. The alternating close up shot of her feet and face, and a wide shot to show her full body while she spun was very breathtaking. Even her super happy and satisfied expression after she did it was also in slow motion.

The makeup effects for the wounds and blood looks realistic. I never thought a skating film can also be bloody. Well, only on Tonya’s story maybe. I was wondering how they did the blood slowly soaking Tonya’s clothes when her mother hit her arm with a knife.


Margot Robbie met with Tonya Harding while Sebastian Stan met with Jeff Gillooly to further know their sides on the story especially on the incident. Margot Robbie is extremely a talented actress. She perfectly portrayed the tough character of Tonya. I love the way she spoke her sarcastic lines as well. She even trained for figure skating for months to effectively portray Tonya Harding on the ice rink. On the other hand, Allison Janney who played as LaVona did an exceptional performance on this film as well. She won’t be winning several Best Supporting Actress awards if she didn’t do a great performance, right?

(Here is a video of an interview with Tonya and Margot


(image source: IMDb)

Just like one of the judge told Tonya, costume also matters. In all fairness, they were able to replicate Tonya Harding’s costume very well. The film even received an Excellence in Contemporary Film award at the Costume Designers Guild Awards. I personally think Tonya’s costumes look good. I love the costume she wore at the 1994 Winter Olympics but the turquoise color costume she wore at the 1991 Nationals was the best and most beautiful for me. I think it was her most iconic dress since it was the time she was able to do the triple axel for the first time. May I also add that Margot’s hairstyle is perfectly just like Tonya’s. They said that they used beer to copy the dry and puffy look of Tonya’s hair because hair products couldn’t properly achieve the look.


(image source: NEON via itonyamovie)

The film used a storytelling style where the film played as the characters involved recalls the story on an interview. They also broke the fourth wall which was surprising and sometimes hilarious especially when the characters become sarcastic. Breaking the fourth wall is an unusual style on films but I think it’s effective for "I, Tonya" because we could get more of each characters’ perspective and it made me feel like they were telling the story particularly to me.



(image source: NEON via itonyamovie)

We have seen Tonya being abused verbally and physically by her mother since she was little. Even her boyfriend who then became her husband would frequent hurt her. Mean words and physical harm may have fueled her motivation to do better but this is not correct on any way. It may have made her tough but her dark experiences may have also brought a psychological impact on her. At the end, she let go of the toxic people in her life after the incident and lived a quiet life. This tells us to get rid of the abusive relationships in our lives for it will bring nothing good in the future. We should know who to only let in our lives because the people we allow to surround us will have an influence to our decisions.  


Even though Tonya Harding was a great figure skater, the judges still didn't like her just because she didn't fit the image they were trying to find to represent the country. She was poor, her family was not wholesome, and she have bad choices on costume and music. They preferred someone who was princess-like, just like Nancy Kerrigan. Well, I must stand with Tonya when she asked one judge that why can't the sport be just about the skate. For me, anyone can skate no matter who you are. You can join a sport as long as you can do it. The competition is about how good you are on your chosen sport not about how wholesome your family is or how wealthy you are. Sports is for everyone. Most of all, you don't have to fit in to the image people are trying to shape you in. Be yourself, because that is how you will stand out.


Oh my God, It was totally the most awesomest thing. 'Cause leading up it, you're like, "I can't do it! I can't. I can't!" And then, bam, I can! And all those people who said I couldn't make it, well f*ck you! I did!
- Tonya Harding (I, Tonya)

(image source: NEON via itonyamovie)

Tonya Harding proved everyone wrong big time when she was finally able to do the triple axel. She was a two-time Olympian and also a two-time Skate America Champion. She did it for herself and of course, for the haters and people who think she doesn't deserve to be on top. Tonya tells us to believe in ourselves and use our critics as our motivation to aim high and prove them wrong. Having critics can be irritating but once you learn to make them your stepping stone to form a ladder to reach your goal, doubts become fire fueling your determination. Finally doing what they think you can't is the best comeback you can slap to their demeaning mouths, and you can just amusingly watch them shove their words back in their throat.

(Here is Tonya's performance at the 1991 Nationals and 1991 Skate America.)


Tonya Harding's story is truly a story that will forever be remembered in the history of skating; being the first American to do the triple axel and especially 'the incident' which she got involved. The film was entertaining and brought more interest to Tonya's story. I was still a baby back in 1994, so watching this movie became a way for me to know of Tonya Harding, her story, and this historical incident in the figure skating sport.

Thanks for reading!

✧ Katsanslimites

About the author