How Margot Robbie Ended Up Skating to ZZ Top’s ‘Sleeping Bag’ in ‘I, Tonya’
For more than 20 years, if most people knew anything at all about Tonya Harding, it was related to the scandal that erupted after her then-husband and some goons assaulted Nancy Kerrigan, a skating rival of Harding's, in the run-up to the 1994 Winter Olympics. But Harding's colorful past stretches back far further than the incident for which she's most widely known — a tumultuous history covered in the new biopic I, Tonya, starring Margot Robbie as the disgraced former athlete.
The movie, directed by Craig Gillespie, highlights the awkward marriage that always existed between Harding and professional skating. From a self-described "redneck" background, Harding challenged the norms of the sport from the start and often — early in her career, she was known for competing in homemade outfits, part of an overall aesthetic that was generally rougher and more blue-collar than those adopted by her peers. And even as she rose to Olympic-level prominence, Harding pushed the limits of what was considered acceptable for professional figure skaters — up to and including her choice of musical accompaniment while competing.
During one sequence from I, Tonya, Harding is shown skating to "Sleeping Bag," the second release — and first pop single — from ZZ Top's 1985 Afterburner LP. While it may seem like a fantastical addition to the story, the type of thing that's run of the mill for a Hollywood biopic, the truth is that it really did happen — as you can see in the clip below, Harding made the song part of her playlist during the 1992 U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
As Rolling Stone notes, ZZ Top weren't her only musical touchstone during the period — for the routine in question, she queued up "a baffling mix" that also included the score to Kevin Costner's Robin Hood and Gato Barbieri's "Europa" — but it was definitely a big part of what set her apart in professional skating at the time, and she kept competing to the band's music even after her comeback attempt in the late '90s. As Robbie saw it while filming the movie, that's all part of what made Harding such a compelling character to play.
"She had incredible discipline and drive to make it to where she was, despite her class and her circumstances," Robbie told Time Out. "Figure skating’s a really expensive sport. Still, she excelled. Tonya’s not necessarily the image they wanted to have. But I think that’s what I like about the film most."