DETROIT — Twenty-five years after the Tonya-Nancy saga started right here, the first skater in the women’s long program Friday night at the U.S. figure skating championships brought a little bit of the disgraced Tonya Harding back to the ice.
Heidi Munger, 22, a sophomore pre-med student at Boston University, was one of Margot Robbie’s skating stunt doubles in I, Tonya, the film about Harding’s life that came out a year ago.
Munger was taking time off from school and hadn’t qualified for the 2017 nationals when word traveled around the figure skating community that Hollywood was looking for someone who looked like Robbie.
At 5-7 and blond, Munger fit the bill, and she soon was learning three of Harding’s most memorable programs with the help of her coach, Mark Mitchell, who happened to be one of Harding’s contemporaries as a skater. Munger then headed to Atlanta, where four weeks of filming took place.
One of the movie’s big moments is Harding’s successful attempt to become the first American woman to land a triple axel, the most difficult triple jump there is, at the 1991 national championships. Munger, like most female skaters, has never landed a triple axel, but she was willing to give it a try — in a harness attached to the ceiling to help lift her through the 3½-revolution jump.
That didn’t last long. Munger said one attempt ended when one of the wires from the ceiling hit her in the eye, so the triple axel in the movie actually is a computer-enhanced double axel.
Munger said she appears in the movie two or three times, not just as Robbie’s double but also as one of Harding’s “competitors.”
“It’s right before she skates,” Munger said. “She spits her gum out as I’m getting off the ice.”
This was Munger’s second appearance at the national championships at the senior (Olympic) level. She was 15th in 2016. She also skates collegiately. She isn’t the jumper Harding was (then again, who is?) but she is a more elegant and refined skater.
Mitchell, a top skater of his era, was thrilled that Munger received such a unique opportunity.
“I just thought it was cool to be able to do it at the time when she didn’t make it back to nationals,” he said. “See, everything happens for a reason.”
Follow Christine Brennan on Twitter @cbrennansports.