Teachman had been one of Rawlinson's first pupils, way back in 1970, and at Rawlinson's behest had worked with Harding on her compulsory figures and endurance since 1988. "Tonya and Diane arc both pretty stubborn," says Teachman, "and they didn't get along very well by the time I got involved. They had spent a lot of years together. The older Tonya got, the more she wanted to do things her own way. My philosophy was to remember what I was like at that age. I knew Tonya had a rough exterior, and I'd heard all these horror stories, but I also felt that inside there was this nice little girl trying to get out."
Says Harding, "Dody was more like a big sister or a friend than a coach. All I wanted to do was be happy, and I wasn't happy skating for Diane. Nothing was ever good enough for her. She tried to control everything. Everything. Who I'd talk to. How I'd talk to them. How I wore my hair. She basically tried to be my mother."
Rawlinson says she never tried any such thing, but she doesn't want to get into a war of words with her former pupil. She still cares deeply about Harding. "My whole association with Tonya has been like being on an adventure," says Rawlinson, who sounds like a grateful survivor. "I wanted to be a wonderful, positive role model for her, and I feel very proud of what I did for Tonya and Dody both."
As disappointed as Harding was after finishing third in the 1989 nationals, the next year's nationals in Salt Lake City were worse. Standing second after the compulsories and the short program, which together accounted for 50% of the scoring, Harding was poised to break through to the top, or at least the top three, which would have meant an invitation to the worlds that year in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and would have increased her financial aid from the U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA). But the night before the free skate program, Harding, who'd been ill all week, came down with pneumonia. She has had asthma since she was eight years old, which aggravated the illness. She stayed awake all night coughing and in the morning had a 103° temperature. Against her doctor's orders, Harding competed. "I'd have had to be on my death bed not to," she says.
Guts and obstinacy can take one only so far. Completing just three of her seven planned triples, Harding was marked 10th in the free skate, which dropped her to seventh overall. Al Harding was in the stands. "She was so humiliated from skating poorly," he remembers. "But she told me, 'At least I didn't quit.' "
Nope. No quit in this kid. After that experience, many thought Harding would finally give up the sport. And few were weeping at the prospect. The other skaters, who knew little about her family or her past, generally considered Harding standoffish and unfriendly. "People like her because she's a great skater, not because she's Tonya," says David Webber, whose daughter, Stephanie, is Tonya's best friend. "She has an air about her that puts people off, an air of, If you don't like it, tough luck—that's me. That's a hard way to make friends. You and I give a little and bend a little to make friendships and to keep them. Tonya doesn't. She has no security."
And small wonder. Why would she? The only person who seemed always to be there for her was Gillooly. So in March 1990, at 19, she married him. "I never liked you," Al told Gillooly at the wedding party. "But welcome to the family."
"I tried to talk them out of getting married," says LaVona. "I knew Jeff had a violent streak. Once when Tonya was living with me and my new husband, he tried to break down the door because he thought she had gone out with another boy. It turned out it was her brother she'd been with."
Harding later said that one of the reasons she got married then was so she could be covered under Gillooly's health insurance policy. Because, after a pep talk from Teachman and having pondered the troubling question of what she should do with her life, Harding had decided to stick with skating for one more year.
So it was that last February, after all those lousy breaks and all those troubled times, life up and dealt Tonya Harding a full house. Jammed. On a bitter-cold day in Minneapolis, with the national championship at stake, Harding skated the performance of her life. It was a rousing, full-throttle four-minute show in which she landed seven triples six different ways, including her historic triple Axel. The crowd stood and cheered for 45 seconds, and the judges could not and did not deny her. Harding, in the spotlight at last, put a glow on the entire event.