Tonya Harding had a problem, and the problem was named Nancy Kerrigan. Harding probably believed that she was a better skater than Kerrigan, and it's hard to come up with an objective way to judge the matter, except to note that in the sport of figure skating, it's the judges' opinions on the matter that set the standards. And the judges loved Kerrigan.
Well, sure. Kerrigan was tall, pretty, with high cheekbones and a toothy smile. She gave off the aura of aristocracy that the hard-scrabble Harding so obviously lacked. It was the Ice Queen vs Trailer Trash, and, really, who was going to win that deal?
Harding could have concentrated on improving the product. She could, perhaps, have spent even more time practicing (perhaps by inventing the 28 hour day). She'd already increased the difficulty of her routines, by adding the triple axle to her skills, a risky procedure, of course, and a bad enough injury could have ended her career. Or she could have worked on her looks, taken charm lessons, and so forth. But really, nothing short of cosmetic surgery was going to raise her cheekbones, and wouldn't the press have gotten a lot of mileage out of that?
So Harding did what any proper CEO would have done with a difficult competitor. She conspired to have Nancy Kerrigan kneecapped. I mean, after all, when Microsoft was competing with Word Perfect, you don't think they put all their efforts into making Word better, do you? Sometimes corporations buy their competitors instead, but that option is not available to Olympic athletes.
But she got caught, so morality carried the day, right? Harding appeared on the covers of both Time and Newsweek, but that was because she'd been bad, bad, and the 400 members of the press who were jammed into the practice rink in Lillehammer, Norway were there to insure that everyone got the proper moral lesson. Besides, she placed 8th, while Kerrigan placed second, and it was Kerrigan who later benefited the most from the figure skating boom that the sensationalism kicked off.
Still, once a celebrity, always a celebrity, and Harding had an internet sex tape released (with stills appearing in Penthouse), then later turned to boxing, first on the Fox TV network Celebrity Boxing event against Clinton accuser, Paula Jones, then later professionally in a short career. She should probably have gone for pro wrestling, where the villains make more money.
A cautionary tale? Perhaps. But a lot of people made a lot of money off of Tonya Harding, and she herself had more notoriety and more of a career than 99% of Olympic athletes. That she never managed to rise far enough to transcend her origins is unsurprising. Few do.