The three most compelling sports stories of our lifetime:
•The incredible rise and destructive fall of Tiger Woods.
•The life and times of O.J. Simpson.
•Tonya versus Nancy.
The rivalry between 1990s figure skaters Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan was so bitter, bizarre and surreal that it would make a heck of a movie. That's exactly what has happened.
I, Tonya is getting Oscar buzz not only for best picture but for actors Margot Robbie, who plays Harding, and Allison Janney, who plays Harding's abusive mother.
Though the story is completing captivating, a disturbing reaction has emerged. Harding has become a sympathetic figure though it's hard to believe she didn't have a hand in one of the most devious, spineless and repulsive acts directed at an opponent.
When Janney won a Golden Globe this month, she thanked Harding for sharing her story and adding that the movie was "about a woman who was not embraced for her individuality.''
Now Harding is redeemed and likable again. She even walked the red carpet at the Golden Globes.
How did this happen? Did we forget what Harding was part of?
Hey, I'm all for forgiveness and second chances. And Harding's story has been at times tragic. But let's not forget that the reason there is a movie and the reason Harding is even remembered these days is because her little gang of thugs tried to break the leg of her rival so she could make the Olympic team.
We all remember the story. At the 1994 U.S. championships, Harding and Kerrigan were battling on the ice in the hopes of making the Olympic team. The rivalry was already a juicy one with made-for-TV story lines, though some were based on stereotypes.
Harding was the girl from the wrong side of the tracks, a self-described ugly duckling whose best attributes were her desire, competitiveness and sheer athletic power.
Kerrigan was considered the princess of American skating. She was all about grace and beauty. If this was a Taylor Swift song, Kerrigan was the cheer captain who wore high heels and Harding was the girl in the bleachers wearing sneakers.
And back then, Harding was actually the more likable of the two. Her story was better. She was the overachieving underdog, and many of us could relate to her more than we could relate to Kerrigan. We would have pulled for her even more had we known about her rough upbringing.
But during the week of the championships, Harding's ex-husband and her bodyguard hired some wannabe mobster to break Kerrigan's right leg by hitting her with a steel baton. The famous "whack'' that left Kerrigan screaming "Whyyyyy? Whyyyyyy?'' in that now-famous moment didn't break her leg, but it did knock her out of the championships. Harding won the U.S. title and made the Olympic team, but Kerrigan, who couldn't compete, was named to the team, too. Kerrigan won a silver medal at the Olympics, and Harding finished eighth.
After the Olympics, Harding pleaded guilty to hindering prosecution in the Kerrigan investigation though she has long maintained she had no role in the planning or the attack.
In the years following, Harding became a clown, a one-woman circus. There was a sex tape. She tried boxing, wrestling.
Then in 2014, ESPN aired a 30 for 30 documentary about Harding called The Price of Gold that did something that didn't seem possible: It made you feel sorry for Harding. The documentary revealed the physical, emotional and mental abuse she received from her mother. Viewers learned that in order to escape that abusive relationship, she jumped into an emotionally abusive marriage.
And for the first time, you started to see Harding as someone other than the punch line to a joke. Yes, you saw her flaws, but you started to see why she was so flawed. I saw The Price of Gold again just a few nights ago and again was reminded Harding's difficult life. For a split second, there was empathy.
But then I saw something else: an interview with Kerrigan in the Boston Globe.
As you can imagine, she has not seen I, Tonya and has no plans to.
"At this point, it's so much easier and better to just be. … It's not really part of my life," Kerrigan said. "As you say, I was the victim. Like, that's my role in this whole thing. That's it. It is weird, that's for sure. A bizarre thing. The whole thing was crazy, being that it's a story.''
In a chilling admission, Shane Stant, the man who whacked Kerrigan on the leg, said there originally was brief talk of cutting Kerrigan's Achilles tendon before the gang settled on trying to break her leg.
Think about that before seeing I, Tonya, which tells the story from Harding's point of view. Remember that. Remember that Harding said she loved the movie.
Remember this, too: In this rivalry between Tonya and Nancy, it wasn't Tonya who got whacked on the leg. Remember that it was Nancy — not Tonya — who was the real victim.
Maybe it's Nancy Kerrigan we should be celebrating these days.
Contact Tom Jones at [email protected] Follow @tomwjones.