There’s no doubt that a little bit of needle, a touch of controversy and a smattering of personal dislike is a welcome tonic within the sporting world.

Few sporting contests or rivalries have been diminished by the addition of one, two or, ideally, all three.

Except on those rare occasions when it goes too far.

And never has there been an example of a personal rivalry going too far than in the case of the American duo, Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding.

Figure skating has never been the most mainstream of sports but even people who’ve failed to watch a second of the action know about this most remarkable scandal.

And three decades on, the “incident” the pair was involved in remains one of the most shocking in sporting history. 

Kerrigan and Harding were fierce rivals on the ice, and were polar opposites in every way.

While Kerrigan was portrayed as the all-American Disney princess, Harding was seen as someone who was much more unrefined having grown–up with almost no money and an allegedly abusive mother. Harding’s coach once said she saw skating as "her ticket out of the gutter".

Vera Wang made Kerrigan’s skating outfits, whereas Harding was forced to make her own as she couldn’t afford professionally-made ones.

The Herald: Tonya Harding was ultimately banned from skating for lifeTonya Harding was ultimately banned from skating for life

And on the ice, Kerrigan was smooth, effortless and graceful while Harding was a powerhouse of an athlete, most famously becoming the first-ever female skater to perform a triple axel in competition.

Thirty years ago this weekend, Kerrigan was attacked.

In the months and years since the assault, it’s become clear both what the motive was, and how the attack, which came out of the blue and happened in broad daylight, transpired.
Harding’s ex-husband and her bodyguard had hired a hit-man to take out Kerrigan, with the plan being to break her leg at the 1994 US Figure Skating Championships, which doubled as the trials for the Olympic Games, which would take place the following month.

The hired attacker pounced on Kerrigan as she came off the ice having completed a practice session, smashing her leg just above the knee with a pole, leaving the then 24-year-old writhing in agony as the attacker made his escape.

What’s particularly remarkable is the existence of the raw footage of the immediate aftermath of the attack on Kerrigan.

In the clip, which is filmed just seconds after her attacker made his move, she’s seen on the ground grasping her knee, surrounded by medics, sobbing and wailing “why, why?”

It’s a harrowing watch.

What’s perhaps the most astonishing part of this entire saga is just how badly planned and executed the attack was.

Firstly, the hired assassin, named Shane Stant, initially failed to recognise Kerrigan and so was forced to ask a spectator to point her out to him.

When he pounced, he ever so slightly misfired with his blow to her knee so instead of breaking her kneecap, inflicted only a bad bruise.

And on trying to escape the crime scene, he was forced to headbutt his way through a set of glass doors.

Stant’s inability to execute the plan efficiently meant rather than eliminating Kerrigan from the Olympics, she was able to recover and took her place on the 1994 Olympic team as a selectors’ pick, alongside Harding, who’d won the US Championships.

The interest in the figure skating event as the Olympics approached was unprecedented.

That 1994 women's Olympic final broke television audience records in the US. Only two Super Bowls had ever drawn more viewers to a sporting event. 

Ultimately, Kerrigan won silver while Harding finished eighth in Lillehammer.

The results satisfied most observers with Kerrigan getting her medal, while Harding departed empty-handed.

In the end, it wasn’t too difficult to find and catch the perpetrators.  The only thing that remained unclear was how much, if at all, Harding was a part of the plan.

She denied any involvement, and insisted the plan was concocted entirely without her knowledge.

Yet most assumed she was somehow involved, stoking a passionate dislike of the then 23-year-old.

It’s funny, though, what hindsight can do to the perspective on a story.

In the immediate aftermath of the Harding-Kerrigan scandal, there was absolutely no ambiguity as to who deserved all the sympathy and whom the hate should be directed towards.

The passage of time, however, has meant there is much less certainty now.

Kerrigan was universally, and entirely justifiably, seen as the blameless victim.

But the opinion of Harding, that she was a heartless, ruthless piece of “trailer trash” has turned out to be far less accurate.

In certain ways, Harding was a victim too.

In the aftermath of Kerrigan’s attack, Harding was banned from skating for life; a punishment that was seen as harsh even at the time and one which was attributed to the bias against her due to her rough background as much as anything.

She was, it’s alleged, a victim of domestic abuse from her ex-husband and it seems Harding was exploited by others rather than being the master instigator herself.

In the 30 years since the scandal, Kerrigan has starred in numerous professional ice skating shows and dabbled in the media as both a figure skating and American football correspondent.

Harding’s life, however, has been considerably less settled.

Following her ban from figure skating for life in 1994 she went on, some years later, to try her hand as a professional boxer.

She’s also appeared in several reality television programmes, including America’s version of Strictly Come Dancing, in which she finished third in 2018.

Thirty years on, there remains few rivalries that have ever experienced quite so much scandal. 

And revisiting this story is a reminder that, to some, winning in sport is worth going to any lengths for.