The Agony of Defeat. The Thrill of Victory. Michelle Kwan has had her fill of both. Thirteen years worth from 1993 when Michelle first competed in the US Nationals and 1994 when she was bumped off the Olympic team by Nancy Kerrigan through this year when she bumped Emily Hughes to journey to Torino; only then to give up her spot to Hughes when she realized yesterday that she would not be able to compete due to injury. No athlete has epitomized the Olympic Spirit and lived the Olympic Credo: "For the glory of sport," more so than Michelle Kwan.
Although the one triumph Kwan has dreamed of most, The Olympic Championship, has eluded her; Michelle's career stands head and shoulders above all others. Consider this impressive tally: Nine U.S. Championships, Five World Championships, Four World Silver Medals, and Olympic Silver and Bronze Medals. For a dozen years, Michelle Kwan has remained at the very top of the skating world, and no other skater is a bigger role model or icon.
Olympic Champions come and go. Tara Lipinski, Olympic Gold Medalist, was a wunderkind who competed for two years. She snatched the gold from Kwan in Nagano and disappeared. Sarah Hughes, another wunderkind who competed for two years snatched the gold from Kwan in Salt Lake City, and, disappeared. Of all singles skaters in recent memory, only Katarina Witt from 1984 and 1988 has been around long enough to threaten and/or win gold in at least two Olympics. Kwan was ready to threaten in four. 1994 as a 13 year-old kid, but the Tonya and Nancy scandal took precedence and Kerrigan, and rightly so, bumped Kwan. She was narrowly defeated in 1998. She stumbled in 2002, and 12 years later, Kwan was still here and ready to threaten in Torino. Until yesterday. That length of a competitive career is unprecedented in figure skating. You need to go all the way back to Sonja Henie, who won ten consecutive World Championships to find anyone else who competed this long. But even the great Sonja couldn't skate like Michelle Kwan.
While other skaters have come and gone in their pursuits for Olympic glory, "the glory" has never been Michelle Kwan's focus. Michelle has always skated for the pure joy of gliding across the ice and the love of the sport. From the time Michelle first put on a pair of skates until her announcement to withdraw from the Torino Games, Kwan's main motivation has always been pure and driven by her passion to be the very best that she could be. When you love what you do, as the old adage says, you will be successful and reap the rewards of what you love to do. While other skaters have pursued medals and skating honors and lucrative endorsement contracts, Michelle has only pursued a love of skating.
Withdrawing from the Torino Games, Michelle Kwan elevated her legendary and iconic status into the stratosphere, and she will be remembered with the greatest Olympic Champions forever. Her actions and her conduct and her grace have made her the greatest heroine of these games. Rather than hope she'd get better, rather than hold onto a fleeting dream, rather than giving it one more try for her legions of fans; Michelle opted to withdraw early enough so that Emily Hughes, the alternate, has time to fly to Torino, adjust to the time change, and practice on Olympic Ice. Michelle can't give the Torino Games her best shot, but she's making sure Hughes will have hers. As she has said, "because she respects the Olympic Games too much not to compete if she can't compete at her best." Well done, Michelle. Well done.
And lest you think that this was some careful ploy, consider that NBC offered Michelle a chance to sit in the broadcast booth and comment on the figure skating event. Michelle turned the offer down because she did not want to be a distraction to the skaters competing in the events. That's pure class: both on the ice and off.
Gracious in victory on the world and national stage. Gracious in the agony of defeat on the Olympic stage. Michelle Kwan continues to impress, and it will be a very long time, if ever, before we see someone else of her talent and character on the ice again.
Thanks for reading.
TODAY'S OLYMPIC HIGHLIGHTS
3:oo am--11:00 am: Live men's curling, USA vs. Norway; biathalon women's 15K final; women's curling, USA vs. Norway; USA
9:00 am--2:00 pm: Live women's hockey, Sweden vs. Italy and Finland vs. Switzerland; MSNBC
4:00 pm--5:00 pm: Luge women's singles; NBC
5:00 pm--8:00 pm: Men's curling, USA vs. Finland; CNBC
8:00 pm--11:30 pm: Figure Skating Pairs Free Skate; snowboarding women's halfpipe final; speedskating men's 500 final; NBC
12:05 am--1:30 am: Medals plaza award ceremony; NBC
Posted by Matthew S. Urdan on Sunday, February 12, 2006 at 11:54 PM