Controversial former ice skater Tonya Harding advanced to the “Dancing with the Stars: Athletes” finale on Monday night.
Harding, whose Nancy Kerrigan scandal shocked America in the 1990s, survived a triple elimination on the live ABC show. Softball player Jennie Finch-Daigle, figure skater Mirai Nagasu, and luge star Chris Mazdzer were sent packing instead.
Now Harding will compete against two men — Olympics ice skater Adam Rippon and football player Josh Norman — in the three-athlete finale next Monday night, May 21.
Backstage after the show, Harding, 47, told reporters that she’s gotten a second chance: “I think America has proven that they love me and they wanted to know what happened and now they know. It’s really amazing.”
But Harding, who competes with pro partner Sasha Farber, admitted she was surprised to make it to the final of the abbreviated all-athletes “DWTS” season.
“I thought they were going to tell us, ‘You’re going home,’ and I was going, ‘Oh, God, please.’ I literally was praying. And then I was like, ‘What, what’d you say?’ And he’s jumping up and down and I’m going, ‘Oh, my God, we made it.’
“It’s like seeing the lights again,” she said, referring to her past as an ice skater which ended in disgrace.
Harding believes after ‘I, Tonya,’ the movie about her life, and now “DWTS,” “[I’m] feeling like America has opened their arms to me and understands me better now and so, I’m just another person. I’ve been knocked down and now I’ve been picked back up and because of America voting for us, we made it to the finals.”
The ice skater told the cameras on “MVP night,” in which the athletes paid tribute to someone special in their lives, that her late father was her choice.
Harding danced a rumba for her deceased dad, whom she said she used to speak with “every single day.” She’s been estranged from her mother for years; Allison Janney won an Oscar playing her in “I, Tonya.”
Harding sobbed to Fox News after the show, “My dad’s really happy, I know, because he was out there on the floor with us [in spirit]. He’s squeezing my hands and saying, ‘It’s okay. Take a deep breath and just go with it.’ I really wanted to honor my father with that dance.”
The ice skater is married to Joseph Price and they have a young son, Gordon.
When asked what she’ll do professionally after “DWTS,” Harding said, “I really don’t know what the next step is. There’s several things that are coming in, but most importantly, is, I’m a mommy so my son and my husband are the most important and secondly, is what comes in and I’m just looking forward to next week.
“If I get too much on my plate, then I kind of go, whoa! I mean, I am still blonde,” she joked.
“I’ve always loved performing for the people. I never got a chance to do that, that’s when I got this call to do ‘Dancing with the Stars’ it opened my heart again and putting my heart on my arm and letting people see me, it’s really hard.”
Perhaps the most polarizing athlete in American history added, “That’s why I’m going home and putting a fence up.”