Michelle Kwan Looks To Her Future - and 2006

by Amy Partain, SKATING magazine editor
Michelle Kwan with coach Rafael Arutunian

Results/Photos/Starting Orders

Kwan Practice Video (.avi file)

Kwan Practice Video 2 (.avi file)

Kwan Press Conference Video Highlight (.avi file)

(1/6/04) - Tuesday, Jan. 6, marked the 10th anniversary of an historic and unthinkable event in figure skating - Nancy Kerrigan being assaulted after practice at the 1994 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. On that day 10 years ago, a 13-year-old skater named Michelle Kwan was leaving the practice ice after Kerrigan. Kwan was preparing to compete at her second U.S. Championships at the senior level.

Kwan talked about that day during a press conference Tuesday as she prepares to compete in her 12th straight national senior competition at the 2004 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

"I remember being at the practice rink and there were a lot of people saying, 'Nancy, we want your autograph.'" Kwan said. "We were both getting off the ice and Nancy had gone in front of me. I remember saying, 'You've got to sign some autographs so go ahead.' So she went ahead and then it was chaos after that." Kwan said she heard screaming and saw people moving in every direction.

"I didn't know what was happening. All I knew was that my coach pushed me aside, and I flew that way and everyone was going this way," she said. "I was a kid and I didn't know what was going on. I guess I was kind of naïve that way thinking everyone was perfect and thinking everything was always good."

A lot has changed since that day 10 years ago. At that competition Kwan won the silver. Two years later in 1996 Kwan won her first U.S. title and this year she is going for her eighth U.S. title, and her seventh consecutive title. Kwan has been favored to win two Olympic Winter Games but came away with the silver in 1998 and the bronze in 2002.

Since the 2002 Olympic Winter Games Kwan has been hesitant to say if she will stay eligible until the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy. But Thursday she said her attitude is changing.

"I think after the 2002 Olympics I sort of thought, ‘Whatever happens, happens.' And that's how I went about it last season, not planning anything," Kwan said. "But now I think the possibility of me being at the Olympics in Italy is pretty high. It's weird because I'm starting to believe that I can be in Italy and compete in those Olympics. I find myself thinking, ‘This is crazy. Shouldn't I be professional and touring and doing shows?'"

Michelle Kwan in practice Tuesday morning.
But show skating is not where Kwan's passion is. She loves competition, getting nervous and challenging herself to do better. Even after not winning gold in Salt Lake City, Kwan said she didn't think of giving up competitive skating.

"I never thought that just because everything didn't go my way at Salt Lake that that was it, that I don't like skating anymore; I'm leaving," she said. "There is something that skating gives me, it's a passion."

Since she started competing on the senior level 12 years ago, Kwan said she feels she's experienced the sport from all sides and angles.

"I feel like I've made a complete circle in the past 12 years. I've gone from the little jumping bean to being the underdog to being the favorite to being the one who went over the top and came back up," Kwan said. "But as long as it keeps my interest and as long as I'm enjoying myself and I still have a passion for it, I'll keep skating. It's just the way I am."

And now, after some uncertainty about how she would continue in the sport, Kwan is looking toward the future. She partially credits her change in attitude - thinking the 2006 Olympics are a real possibility- to her new coach Rafael Arutunian, with whom she started working earlier this season. She said Arutunian is working with her on improving every element of her skating.

"Going to Rafael was a great thing for me because I've trained intensely for the last couple of months and it's made a big difference in my skating," she said. "I can never say I'm 100 percent ready, but I'm a lot stronger than I was two months ago. Over the last few weeks I've felt wonderful skating. I can feel it, and seeing improvement is a great thing."

With the U.S. competition still to come, not to mention the rest of this season and another season before the next Olympics, Kwan said she is happy with what she has already experienced during her skating career. And while she, of course, would like to add the Olympic gold medal to her collection, she knows that even that couldn't top what she's already experienced.

"I can't justify everyday practice just for that gold medal. I came close to it and I know that I wouldn't be happier [if I'd won]," she said. "Everybody always thinks that you win the gold and everything is [wonderful]. It just doesn't work that way. Skating gives me a passion. I don't know what it is; I wish I could put a finger on it. But it's not about the medals; it's not. Regardless of what happens this week it's been a great journey already. I've been very fortunate in my skating career to have such a long lifespan in skating."