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Tonya Harding's estranged mother disputes 'I, Tonya' portrayal

Entertainment Weekly logo Entertainment Weekly 1/11/2018 Oliver Gettell
a close up of a man and woman taking a selfie © Neon; Steve Slocum/AP/REX/Shutterstock

Call it Not I, LaVona.

LaVona “Sandy” Golden, the estranged mother of disgraced Olympic skater Tonya Harding, is disputing her daughter’s allegations of childhood abuse, which have received new attention after the release of the darkly comic biopic I, Tonya.

“I didn’t abuse any of my children,” Golden says in a preview of the ABC News special Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story, airing Thursday night. “Spanked? Yes, [I] spanked. Absolutely, positively you [have] got to show them right from wrong.”

Harding has alleged that her mother abused her throughout her childhood, and once even threw a steak knife at her. “I don’t think that there was more than one day a week, sometimes, that I didn’t get beaten,” Harding tells ABC in the special.

In I, Tonya — which was released last month and has gained momentum as an awards contender, including a Golden Globes win for Allison Janney’s portrayal of Golden — Harding and her mother’s tumultuous relationship is on full display. (It’s worth noting that the film wears its subjectivity on its sleeve, and begins with a disclaimer: “Based on irony free, wildly contradictory, totally true interviews with Tonya Harding and [ex-husband] Jeff Gillooly.”)

Golden is portrayed in the film as being emotionally and physically abusive toward Harding (played by Margot Robbie), ostensibly in an effort to groom a champion. Golden hits her daughter repeatedly, withholds bathroom breaks, hires a heckler to fire her up, and, yes, throws a steak knife at her, striking her in the arm. Golden is also seen adding alcohol to her coffee cup several times throughout the movie.

Speaking to ABC, Golden admits to spanking her daughter with a hairbrush once at a competition but says it was an isolated incident. “Why would I throw a steak knife at anybody?” she says, adding that Harding has “lied so much she doesn’t know what isn’t a lie anymore.”

As for her beverage of choice, Golden says, “I would have coffee and sometimes I would put brandy flavoring in it. I love brandy flavoring. You can’t get drunk on flavoring. Sorry to disappoint you.”

I, Tonya screenwriter Steven Rogers declined to comment to EW about Golden’s ABC interview; director Craig Gillespie couldn’t be reached for immediate comment.

Speaking to EW last year about portraying Golden, Janney said, “Unfortunately, Steven couldn’t find the real LaVona Harding. He tried everywhere, everywhere led to a dead end. … The woman you see on the screen, the character that I got to play, was part [Harding’s] version of her mother; part Jeff Gillooly’s version of Tonya’s mother, his mother-in-law for a while; and part artistic license from Steven Rogers, because he didn’t have the real woman; and then me coming in there and doing what I [do], putting my spin on it.”

Truth and Lies: The Tonya Harding Story airs tonight at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

Related slideshow: I, Tonya and 7 Other Gold Medal-Worthy Olympic Movies (via People)

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