The stories behind the characters in I,Tonya were so much worse than what you saw on screen.


I, Tonya is a dark comedy that will simultaneously make you gasp in shock and laugh out loud.

The movie tells the story of Tonya Harding, a polarising Olympic figure skater from the “wrong side of the tracks”.

In the early 1990s, Harding made headlines around the world for all the wrong reasons.

LISTEN: The Binge hosts discuss the most shocking moments from the movie and how they compare to real life. 


Just before the 1994 Olympics, she became embroiled in a plot to hurt her rival on the ice, Nancy Kerrigan.

Harding and Kerrigan were about to go head-to-head in the US Championships, a competition which would determined who would represent America at the Olympics.

Kerrigan, however, never made it to the competition.

As she was leaving a practice session at the Cobo Arena ice rink the night before the Championships, she was viciously assaulted by a stranger.

The unknown man, who was wearing at black hood at the time of the attack, targeted the kneecap on her landing leg.

The world looked on in horror as the moments before and after the attack were caught on camera. An hysterical Kerrigan was filmed lying on the ground, screaming and crying, and asking ‘Why?’ over and over again.

Luckily, the assailant didn’t break any bones. Kerrigan was left bruised and swollen and she had a severe limp, which meant she wasn’t able to compete in the Championships the next day.


Harding competed and made it onto the team. The team also decided that Kerrigan should go to the Olympics.

But in the time between the Championships and the Olympics it was revealed that Harding’s ex husband, Jeff Gillooly, and his dodgy friend, Shawn Eckhardt, were behind the attack.

While Harding maintained she had nothing to do with it, she was overwhelmingly vilified by the media and the wider public.


Both Harding and Kerrigan competed in the Olympics, but while Kerrigan went on to have a glittering career, Harding’s career abruptly ended.

I, Tonya takes a closer look at Harding, her rough childhood, and the domestic abuse she suffered at the hands of Gillooly.

The movie paints a broader picture of Harding. It takes us behind the headlines, but it still kind of glosses over the real tragedy of Harding’s life.

And, in a way, it makes the people involved in this brutal crime seem almost harmless and kind of lovable.

In reality, the people in Harding’s life were grittier, meaner, and whole lot more flawed.

Here’s a breakdown of the I, Tonya characters and their real life counterparts.

Tonya Harding, portrayed by Margot Robbie

real people behind i tonya
Harding was embroiled in a plot to take down her rival. Image via Getty.

Margot Robbie's portrayal of Harding is nothing short of phenomenal.

Robbie's costumes and makeup are spot on. However, the Harding she plays was probably a little tougher than the real life Harding.

Harding's story is nothing short of tragic. She was raised by her sardonic, abusive mother, LaVona Fay Golden.

When she was just a teenager she met and married Jeff Gillooly, an older man who she said violently beat her.

Figure skating was the only good thing in Harding's life and she was determined to be the best. But she had to work twice as hard, and sew her own costumes late at night, to even be given the same opportunities as the other competitors.


After the 1994 Olympics, Harding's career was pretty much over. She tried her hand at acting, music, wrestling and boxing but nothing really stuck.

In the mid-90s, she and Gillooly sold a sex tape they’d filmed on their wedding night. Harding was also arrested twice - once for DUI and once for suspected domestic violence against her then-boyfriend.

In 2008, she released a memoir called The Tonya Tapes in which she admitted feeling some guilt over the crime.

“Of course I feel guilty for what happened,” Harding said. “But I can’t dwell. I have to go on living.”

Jeff Gillooly, portrayed by Sebastian Stan

real people behind i tonya
Image via Getty.

Jeff Gillooly met Tonya Harding when she was just 15 years old. They married in 1990 when Harding was 19.

According to Harding, he would regularly beat her. It was Gillooly's dimwitted friend, Shawn Eckhardt, who arranged the hit on Kerrigan.

To this day, Gillooly has denied knowing about the attack before it happened.

On February 1, 1994, Gillooly accepted a plea offer in exchange for his testimony against Harding. He ended up serving just 14 months in jail.

After his release Gillooly changed his name to Jeff Stone and became a used car salesman.

According to Deadspin, he's had many more brushes with the law including charges of assault, a DUI and some restraining orders. He's also been sued up to a dozen times.

Shawn Eckhardt, portrayed by Paul Walter Hauser

real people behind i tonya
Image via YouTube.

Shawn Eckhardt was Gillooly's best friend and Harding's "bodyguard".

He lived in his parent's basement and claimed to be an international espionage expert.

He is widely considered to be the "mastermind" behind the whole incident.

After he was released from prison he changed his name to Brian Sean Griffith and started a computer company which... failed.

Eckhardt died in 2007 from natural causes. He was just 40 years old.

LaVona Fay Golden, portrayed by Allison Janney

real people behind i tonya
Image via YouTube.

Harding and her mother, LaVona Fay Golden, haven't spoken in years.

Harding was the youngest of four children. Harding’s father was Golden’s third husband.

Golden denies ever laying a hand on Harding. She also claims she worked multiple jobs to help further Harding's career.

“I didn’t have any problems until she got up into her teens. She hates me. Period. I could never do anything right for her. Nothing," Golden recently told Inside Edition.

LISTEN: Behind the scenes of I, Tonya and everything else you should be watching this week. Post continues after audio...

Diane Rawlinson, portrayed by Julianne Nicholson

real people behind i tonya
Image via Getty.

Diane Rawlinson is a former figure-skating champion who became Tonya Harding's coach.

She was possibly the only positive influence in Harding's life. Harding looked up to her because she “did it herself and made herself".

They cut ties after 14 years of working together.

Rawlinson told Sports Illustrated, "Tonya wasn't training and wasn't meeting the goals she had set for herself. So I delegated her to Dody [Teachman]".

Nancy Kerrigan, portrayed by Caitlin Carver

real people behind i tonya
Image via Getty.

After the 1994 Olympics, Kerrigan stopped competing professionally but she continued to be America's sweetheart.

She would go on to have an impressive career in the media, hosting Saturday Night Live, writing a book, and appearing in Will Ferrell's 2007 comedy Blades of Glory.

I,Tonya is currently showing in cinemas across Australia. 

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