Kwan Looks to Overcome Setback, Earn Olympic Spot

by Mickey Brown

(1/4/06) - Michelle Kwan will not be competing at this year's State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and although her absence will be felt throughout the skating world, no one is taking her withdrawal harder than the woman with whom the event has been most closely identified over the last decade and a half.

“Nationals is one of my favorite events,” she said. “I'm very disappointed.”

The five-time World and nine-time U.S. champion pulled herself out of this year's event in St. Louis because of a groin injury, but she announced she will petition the U.S. Figure Skating International Committee for one of the three ladies spots on this year's Olympic team.

“I'm capable of being 100 percent for the Olympics,” Kwan said in a teleconference Wednesday afternoon. “That's why I put the petition in, because I think I have a chance to win.”

Kwan's medical issues began prior to the start of the 2005-06 competitive season when she strained a hip ligament, causing her to miss the Campbell's Classic and Smart Ones Skate America. She was cleared to return to the ice on Oct. 25, but the lingering effects of the injury and lack of preparation forced her to also skip her other scheduled ISU Grand Prix Series event, Cup of China.

After an almost nine-month layoff from competition, Kwan made her 2005-06 debut Dec. 11 at the Marshalls U.S. Figure Skating Challenge in Boston. Despite the apparent rust, she came out on top in the event, the results of which were decided by fan voting.

“I'd been skating two weeks prior to that competition. I didn't have enough time to get my short program together,” Kwan said. “I wanted to get out and perform in front of people.”

Soon after that, on Dec. 17, Kwan pulled her groin during practice and has since been cautious in her training. Her physician, Dr. Leisure Yu, told her the hip and groin injuries were unrelated and believed the latter will improve with the proper treatment.

She has not been practicing jumps or spins since the injury, but she has been on the ice every day working on other elements.

“Athletes do run into injuries,” Kwan said. “You have to nurse them and listen to your body. “I feel I was on my way back before this injury.”

Kwan finds herself on the other end of an all-too-familiar situation. In 1994, after finishing second at the U.S. Championships, she was bumped off the Olympic team in favor of Nancy Kerrigan following her infamous attack.

Kwan is now in the unenviable position of potentially taking an Olympic spot from a competitor who finishes in the top three in St. Louis.

"It is sort of ironic that the last person bumped off the team was me, in '94," Kwan said. "But they do have a rule for special circumstances. I want to petition, because I feel I will be 100 percent by the time the Olympics rolls around."

As per the U.S. Figure Skating athlete selection procedures, the U.S. champion automatically receives a spot on the Olympic team. The remaining members of the team are chosen by the U.S. Figure Skating's International Committee based on the organization's Olympic selection procedures. The team will be named following the ladies free skate on Jan. 14 in St. Louis, Mo.

There are 36 voting members of the International Committee, and a simple majority is needed to decide on the team. Any committee member with a conflict of interest in the decision will recuse him or herself from the vote.

Kwan has only competed under the new judging system once, at the 2005 World Championships, finishing fourth.

Since then, she has attempted to cater her programs more to the new ISU judging system, and has even brought in two international judges to give her feedback on what she's doing well and what she still needs to work on.

“I've made adjustments myself,” Kwan said. “I feel my levels are up to par.”

Kwan has accepted much of the responsibility for assessing her health. She will have to prove that she will be physically ready to compete by the start of the ladies figure skating competition in Torino, Italy.

“I'm my own worst critic," Kwan said. "If I don't feel 100 percent, I'll pull myself off the team.”

Asked if, at any point during her ordeal, she has ever considered retirement, Kwan spoke frankly, saying the thought has crossed her mind a few times, but that something keeps her from hanging up her skates for good.

“My love for competing and skating is always pulling me back.”

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