It would be nice to be able to write that that championship changed her life and marked the end of Harding's trials. But real life doesn't work that way, and Harding is up to her elbows in real life. In early April, less than a month after finishing second in her first world championships—a remarkable achievement in itself—Harding announced she was leaving Teachman and would coach herself in the future, getting occasional input from Rawlinson. "I was real hurt," Teachman says. "We'd had a couple of rocky phone calls, and she told me she couldn't work with me right now."
The rift concerned the distribution of USFSA funds and whether Harding had or had not given her coach permission to sign her name when submitting expense receipts. "I had a lot of input from Jeff when I decided to leave Dody," Harding later admitted. After seven weeks, she saw she had overreacted. "I went back and said, 'Dody, I need you.' It was miscommunication, because everything was fine. I learned you have to talk things out."
On June 17, shortly after reuniting with Teachman, Harding filed for divorce from Gillooly, citing irreconcilable differences. As is usually the case in such instances, those closest to Harding weren't surprised. "We were never in a competition where they weren't in a fight before we left," Teachman says. Stephanie Webber, maid of honor at Harding's wedding, had disapproved of the union from the start. Stephanie had expressed her opinion so many times that she finally developed a code, holding up four fingers every time she heard about Tonya's marital difficulties. Translation: I told you so. Al, recently resettled in Portland, blames himself for the whole thing. "I feel like I deserted Tonya when I went to Boise," he says. "I don't think she'd have married Jeff if I hadn't gone."
The couple had been married 15 months. Two days after filing for divorce, Harding petitioned for, and was granted, a restraining order to prevent Gillooly from entering any skating rinks or her apartment. "He wrenched my arm and wrist and he pulled my hair and shoved me," she wrote in the petition. Harding further stated, "I recently found out he bought a shotgun, and I am scared for my safety."
A hearing on the distribution of property and the finalization of the divorce was scheduled for November. Harding and Stephanie got an apartment together over the summer, and during her separation from Gillooly, Tonya seemed happy to be on her own. She taught Stephanie how to play pool. Twice Harding went drag racing at the Portland International Raceway—once in a friend's car, once in her Jeep CJ-7. But she gave racing up when her automobile insurance company got wind of it and threatened to cancel her policy. She came in second in a celebrity roller-blading event in Orlando, Fla., that was put on for television—Elizabeth Manley and Bonnie Blair were among the contestants. Harding had roller-bladed only four times before the competition. "She got back and said, 'I wasn't going to let all those girls get in front of me,' " recalls Teachman. "She should be on the front line of a football team."
By early fall, Harding's training was going well and her weight was down to a lithe 96 pounds—four pounds less than she weighed when she won at the nationals. "This year I've just been thinner," Harding said. "I think that comes from being happy, too." Three times a week she worked out in a gym, bench-pressing 110 pounds. Harding believes it is her upper-body strength, first acquired while splitting wood for her father, that enables her to land her triple Axel.
"She jumps like a male skater," said Brian Boitano, the men's 1988 Olympic champion, after watching Harding win the prestigious Skate America competition in Oakland in September. "There's an incredible strength and control in her jumping." Among the contestants Harding defeated at Skate America was Yamaguchi, the defending world champion, in the only time they will meet before this month's 1992 nationals.
Harding even became pretty serious about a young man she met in Canada, a banker. She met him at a dance club in Vancouver, where, with characteristic assertiveness, she asked him to dance. He came to visit her in Portland in October, and her friends and family liked him. He seemed to have a calming effect on Harding. She talked about taking him elk hunting with her father. "She wanted me to meet him," David Webber recalls. " 'I really love him, Pop,' she said. I told her, 'Tonya, you can't just meet a guy and fall in love with him like that. Love grows.' But that's just how fast she goes."
That is how fast she goes. A few days after the young man had returned to Canada, Harding shocked everyone—her lawyer, her agent, her father, her mother, her coach, the Webbers—by announcing she was getting back together with Gillooly. They had talked things out. He had not bought a shotgun, after all. "I'm a complete person again," Harding says now. "I know it seemed like I was happy, but something was missing, and now I know what it was. Jeff and I love each other more than ever. We're going to get a counselor and work it out. I know he's changed. I see it in his eyes, and I believe in him. I'm going to be married once in my whole life, and that's the way I'm going to look at it. I don't want to lose him. I really don't."
Gillooly, who declined to be interviewed for this article, would only say, through Harding, that he was happy they were back together and that they were going to make the marriage work.