Michelle Kwan performs her signature spiral at a practice session at the 2002 U.S. Championships.
|Full name||Michelle Wingshan Kwan|
|Country represented||United States|
July 7, 1980 |
Torrance, California, United States
|Height||5 ft 2 in (1.57 m)|
|Former coach||Rafael Arutyunyan, Frank Carroll, Scott Williams|
|Former choreographer||Tatiana Tarasova, Lori Nichol, Nikolai Morozov, Sarah Kawahara, Peter Oppegard, Karen Kwan, Christopher Dean|
|Skating club||Los Angeles FSC|
|ISU personal best scores|
|Olympic medal record|
|Women's figure skating|
|Competitor for United States|
|Bronze||2002 Salt Lake City||Singles|
Michelle Wingshan Kwan (born July 7, 1980) is a retired American figure skater. She is a two-time (1998 and 2002) Olympic medalist, a five-time (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001 and 2003) World champion and a nine-time (1996, 1998–2005) U.S. champion (the all-time record, as tied with Maribel Vinson-Owen).
She competed at a high level for over a decade and is the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history. Known for her consistency and expressive artistry on ice, she is widely considered one of the greatest figure skaters of all time.
For well over a decade, Kwan maintained her status not only as America's most popular figure skater but as one of America's most popular female athletes, consistently making the top ten on many such polls and lists (often as the only figure skater) even years after she had stopped competing. During the decade of her reign Kwan enjoyed unprecedented popularity, landed numerous major endorsement deals, starred in multiple TV specials and was the subject of extensive media coverage. From 1997 to 2005, she was the U.S. Figure Skating Association's top-paid skater in terms of appearance fees.
- 1 Early life and career
- 2 Competitive career
- 3 Awards and accolades
- 4 Programs
- 5 Competitive highlights
- 6 Public life
- 7 Personal life
- 8 References
- 9 External links
Early life and career
Born in Torrance, California, Michelle is the third child of Danny Kwan and Estella Kwan, immigrants from Hong Kong. As a child, Kwan grew up speaking a mixture of Cantonese and English at home. Kwan’s interest in figure skating began at the age of five when she followed her two older siblings (hockey player Ron and figure skater Karen) onto the ice. Karen and Michelle began serious training when Michelle was about eight years old. They practiced three to four hours a day, waking up at 4:30 am and arriving at the rink at 5 to skate before school and going back to the rink right after school to skate again. Paying for their increased skating-rink time led to financial hardship for Kwan’s working-class family. When Kwan was ten years old, her family could no longer afford a coach, but they were offered financial assistance by a fellow member of the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club that allowed them to train at the Ice Castle International Training Center in Lake Arrowhead, California.
Kwan attended Soleado Elementary School in Palos Verdes, California, but left public school to be homeschooled in 1994, when she was in the 8th grade. After graduation from Rim of the World High School in 1998, Kwan attended UCLA for one year. In the fall of 2006, she transferred to the University of Denver. In June 2009, she graduated with a bachelor's degree in international studies and a minor in political science from Denver's Josef Korbel School of International Studies. In 2009, she began graduate studies in international relations at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University and graduated in 2011. On May 8, 2010, she was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Southern Vermont College.
Kwan has won five World Championships (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, and 2003), the most by anyone in the ladies' division since Carol Heiss (1956–1960), with whom she is tied for the most wins by an American. She has won nine United States Figure Skating Championships (1996, 1998–2005), tying the record for most set by Maribel Vinson-Owen (1928–1933, 1935–1937). Kwan's eight consecutive U.S. Championship titles (1998–2005) and 12 consecutive U.S. Championship medals (1994–2005) are both U.S. records. She is the only woman in figure skating history to reclaim the World title three times (1998, 2000, 2003). She also won a silver medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics and a bronze medal in the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics. Among her many accolades, Kwan is a recipient of the prestigious James E. Sullivan Award, which is given to America's best amateur athlete; she was the first figure skater to win the award since Dick Button won it in 1949. Kwan has received a combined total of 57 6.0s (perfect scores) from her National and World competitions throughout the years. At the U.S. Championships alone, she holds the record for most 6.0s. Because figure skating is no longer scored on a 6.0 scale, Kwan's records will stand indefinitely.
In 1991, Michelle Kwan and her sister Karen began training with Frank Carroll. After one year of coaching by Carroll, 11-year-old Michelle placed 9th at the junior level at the United States Figure Skating Championships. At the age of 12 in 1992, Michelle passed the gold test to become a senior-level figure skater despite the disapproval of her coach. In 1993, Kwan finished sixth at her first senior U.S. championships. The next season, she won the 1994 World Junior Championships.
In 1994, Kwan finished second to Tonya Harding at the U.S. Championships, which ordinarily would have earned her a spot on the U.S. team to the 1994 Olympic Games in Lillehammer, Norway. That place was instead given to 1993 national champion Nancy Kerrigan, who had been sidelined by an assault and battery (eventually connected to Harding's ex-husband Jeff Gillooly) after a practice session at those championships. The 13-year-old Kwan went to Norway as an alternate but did not compete. Kerrigan and Harding both dropped out of eligible competition before the 1994 World Championships. Because of this (and teammate Nicole Bobek not making out of the qualifying round), Kwan had the sole responsibility to ensure two spots for the U.S. at the 1994 World Championships by placing in the top ten. Kwan had an unusual mistake in the short program and placed eleventh in that portion, but came back strong to finish eighth overall.
At the 1995 U.S. Championships, Nicole Bobek won the gold medal, while Kwan again placed second after struggling with her lutz jump in both the short program and free skate. At the 1995 World Championships, she placed fifth in the short program portion of the competition with a clean performance. She landed seven triple jumps in her free skating performance and placed third in that portion of the competition. She finished fourth overall.
Artistic development and 1998 Olympics
Following 1995, Kwan developed a more mature style. Her new, more artistically expressive programs were "Romanza" (short program) and "Salome" (free skate). She also improved her speed and her jump technique, and performed more difficult choreography. In 1996, Kwan won both the U.S. Championships and the World Championships. In the latter event, she edged out defending champion Chen Lu in a very close competition in which both competitors garnered two perfect 6.0s for Presentation in the free skate.
In the 1996–97 season, Kwan skated to "Dream of Desdemona" (short program) and "Taj Mahal" (free skate). It was during this year that Kwan debuted a change-of-edge spiral, which is still considered her signature move. However, in this season, Kwan struggled with her jumps because of a growth spurt and problems with new skating boots which she wore for an endorsement contract with the manufacturer. She fell twice and stumbled once in her free skate at 1997 U.S. Nationals, losing the title to Tara Lipinski. She lost the Champion Series Final to Lipinski a month later. At the World Championships, Kwan stepped out of her triple lutz combination and placed 4th in the Short Program portion of the competition behind Lipinski, France's Vanessa Gusmeroli, and Russia's Maria Butyrskaya. During the Free Skate, Kwan skated a six triple, mistake-free performance to win that part of the competition, but placed second to Lipinski overall.
Kwan started out the 1997–1998 Olympic season by winning Skate America (where she defeated Tara Lipinski) and then Skate Canada. However, she suffered a stress fracture on her foot and was forced to withdraw from her third Champions Series Final. Kwan regained her U.S. title from Lipinski at the 1998 National Championships, in spite of competing with a toe injury. Many people consider her performances of her Rachmaninoff short program and free skate set to William Alwyn's "Lyra Angelica" at the 1998 U.S. Championships to be the high point of her career from both a technical and artistic standpoint. The performance earned her eight perfect 6.0s and left one judge in tears.
Kwan and Lipinski were the co-favorites to win the 1998 Olympic Games in Nagano, Japan. Kwan placed first in the Short Program portion of the competition, winning eight first place votes out of nine judges. In the free skate, Kwan skated a 7-triple performance but placed behind Lipinski, who also did 7 triples including a triple loop/triple loop combination and a triple toe-loop/half-loop/Triple Salchow. Kwan ended up winning the silver medal, with the gold medal being won by Lipinski and the bronze medal by Chen Lu.
Lipinski and Chen both retired from competitive skating shortly after the Olympics, while Kwan went on to win the 1998 World Championships in Minneapolis.
From 1998 to 2002 Olympics
Kwan continued to compete as an eligible skater in the 1998–99 season, although she bypassed the fall Grand Prix season and instead chose to skate in a series of made-for-television pro-am events. Her "regular" competitive programs that season were "Fate of Carmen" (short program) and "Lamento D'Ariane" (free skate). Kwan won her third national title at the 1999 U.S. Championships, competing against a weak field. At the 1999 World Championships, Kwan did not skate her best, and placed second behind Russian competitor Maria Butyrskaya.
Kwan's win at the 2000 U.S. Nationals was controversial to some. She was criticized for planning an easier jump in her short program than her competitors (a triple toe loop rather than a triple flip), and fell on this element in the competition. The judges nevertheless placed her third in that segment behind younger challengers Sasha Cohen and Sarah Hughes; however, the placement still kept her in contention for the title. Ultimately, she won the free skate with the best performance of the night, capturing 8 of the 9 first-place ordinals. At the 2000 World Championships, Kwan was again in third place after the short program, behind Maria Butyrskaya and Irina Slutskaya. In her free skate, Kwan landed seven triple jumps, including a triple toe loop/triple toe loop combination, and won that segment of the competition. Butyrskaya lost her commanding lead by finishing third behind Slutskaya in the free skate, allowing Kwan to win the overall title as well.
In 2001, Kwan again won the U.S. Championships, receiving first-place ordinals from all 9 judges in both the short program and free skate. At the 2001 World Championships, Kwan was second behind Slutskaya in the short program. Kwan won the title with her "Song of the Black Swan" free skate, executing 7 triples, including a triple toe loop/triple toe loop combination.
Kwan and Carroll decided to end their coaching relationship two days before the start of the 2001 Skate America. In interviews, Kwan said she needed to "take responsibility" for her skating. Coachless, Kwan arrived at the 2002 U.S. Championships in Los Angeles amid the media's scrutiny over her separation with Carroll and her season's inconsistencies. Kwan won the competition with a revived "Rachmaninoff" short program and a new "Scheherazade" program for her free skate, securing a place on the 2002 Olympic team. Joining her on the team were Sasha Cohen (second) and Sarah Hughes (third). The 21-year-old Kwan and Russia's Irina Slutskaya were favorites to win the gold. Kwan led after the short program, followed by Slutskaya, Cohen, and Hughes. In the free skate, Kwan two-footed her triple toe loop combination and fell on her triple flip, while Sarah Hughes skated a clean program. Kwan won the bronze medal behind Hughes and Slutskaya. Kwan's final event of the season was the 2002 Worlds, where she won the silver medal behind Slutskaya.
Kwan began working with coach Scott Williams in summer 2002. She continued to compete on the Olympic-eligible circuit, although in a more limited way. During the fall seasons of 2002 to 2004, Kwan competed in only one Grand Prix event, Skate America in the fall of 2002, which she entered as a last-minute replacement. She won the event and qualified for the Grand Prix Final but chose not to compete in it. Kwan chose to not compete in Grand Prix events in the 2003 and 2004 seasons where the new judging system was being used.
Kwan won all phases of every competition she entered in the 2002–2003 competitive season with her programs: Peter Gabriel's "The Feeling Begins" from The Last Temptation of Christ (short program) and "Concierto de Aranjuez" (free skate). She won the U.S. Championships again and regained her World title.
In autumn 2003, she hired noted technician Rafael Arutyunyan as her coach, with whom she attempted to increase the technical difficulty of her programs. In the 2003–2004 competitive season, she skated again to "The Feeling Begins" for her short program, and Puccini's "Tosca" for her long program.
Again, Kwan won the U.S. Championships (where the old 6.0 system was still being used), earning 7 more 6.0s for presentation in the Free Skate. At the 2004 World Championships, after a difficult qualifying round, Kwan was penalized in her short program for going two seconds over time which caused her to placed 4th going into the Long Program behind American Sasha Cohen, Japan's Shizuka Arakawa, and Miki Ando. As she was about to start her free skate, there was a disruption caused by a streaker entering the ice surface and being removed by security staff. In the end, Kwan skated an inspired, if conservative, 5 triple performance and received the last 6.0 marks given at the World Championships. She placed second in the Free Skating portion (she was one judge away from winning the long program) and placed third overall at the championships behind Arakawa (who performed 7 triples, including two triple-triple combinations) and Cohen.
For the 2004–2005 competitive season, Kwan skated her long program to "Boléro", choreographed by British ice dancer Christopher Dean who had famously skated to the music with Jayne Torvill two decades before, and debuted a new short program, "Adagio" from Aram Khachaturian's ballet Spartacus. At the U.S. Championships, she won her 9th title, tying the all-time record previously set by Maribel Vinson-Owen. Interestingly, Vinson-Owen had coached Frank Carroll, who in turn coached Kwan. At the 2005 World Championship, Kwan competed for the first time under the new judging system. She had a rough qualifying round and placed third in the short program. In the free skate, Kwan fell on her triple salchow and two-footed a triple lutz. Although she finished third in both the short and long program portion of the competition, Kwan was edged by Carolina Kostner for the bronze medal and finished fourth overall, missing third place by 0.37 points. It was the first time since 1995 that Kwan had failed to medal at any international competition, and would be her final competitive event.
Kwan looked at the 2005 Worlds as a learning experience in the ISU Judging System. She continued to train and stated that she would attempt to qualify for the 2006 Olympic Games in Turin, Italy. However, following a hip injury, she was forced to withdraw from her three planned competitions in the fall of 2005. Kwan skated her new short program ("Totentanz") at a made-for-TV event in December, 2005, but her performance was well below her usual standard. On January 4, 2006, Kwan withdrew from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships with an abdominal injury incurred in December 2005. One week later, she filed a petition with the USFSA for a medical waiver to be placed on the 2006 Olympic figure skating team. On January 14, 2006, after the United States ladies' figure skating event, the USFSA's International Committee met and in a 20 to 3 vote approved Kwan's petition under the stipulation that she show her physical and competitive readiness to a five-member monitoring panel by January 27.
Kwan performed her long and short programs for the panel on the stipulated day, and her spot on the Olympic team was established, as the panel felt she was fit to compete. However, on February 12, 2006, the United States Olympic Committee announced that Kwan had withdrawn from the Games after suffering a new groin injury in her first practice in Turin. Kwan remarked that she "respected the Olympics too much to compete." The Turin organizing committee accepted the USOC's application for Emily Hughes (who had finished third at the U.S. Championships) to compete as Kwan's replacement.
After her withdrawal from the Olympic team, Kwan turned down an offer to stay in Turin as a figure skating commentator for NBC Sports. During an interview with Bob Costas and Scott Hamilton, Michelle Kwan said she was not retiring yet.
Kwan underwent elective arthroscopic surgery in August 2006 to repair a torn labrum in her right hip, an old injury which she traces back to 2002. According to Kwan, the surgery allowed her to skate pain-free for the first time in four years.
Kwan did not compete during the 2006–2007 figure skating season.
Kwan told the Associated Press in October 2007 that she would decide in 2009 if she planned to compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics, but she ultimately decided not to do so, focusing instead on graduate school. She has said "Representing the United States as an American Public Diplomacy Envoy the past three years has been very rewarding, and I want to do more." After graduating from the University of Denver in 2009, Kwan said "Furthering my education will bring me closer to that goal, and I don't want to wait any longer to continue the journey."
On February 17, 2010, Kwan told ABC News in an interview that she was continuing her studies as a graduate student at the Tufts University Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. She is working toward her Master's Degree focused on U.S. Foreign Policy and Pacific-Asia as well as continuing her work as a Public Diplomacy Envoy. Kwan also said she would be commentating for Good Morning America at the 2010 Winter Olympics.
In August 2009, Kwan made her first on-ice appearance in several years, performing at the Ice All Stars, a show headlined by South Korean world champion Kim Yu-Na in Seoul, South Korea. Kwan appeared in Kim's All That Skate shows in South Korea and Los Angeles. She was the guest star to open the skate rink in the Marina Bay Sands in Singapore in December 2010, where she performed twice to "Winter Song", a programme she self-choreographed with her sister. She returned to Singapore a month later as a Public Diplomacy Envoy to meet local students and to promote ice skating in the tropical country.
Awards and accolades
Kwan is a recipient of the prestigious James E. Sullivan Award (2001), which is given to America's best amateur athlete; she was the first figure skater to win the award since Dick Button won it in 1949. In 2003 she was named the United States Olympic Committee (USOC) "Sportswoman of the Year", and is the 5th figure skater in history to receive this honor. She has also been named USOC "Athlete of the Month" fourteen times, which is more than any other athlete, male or female, as well as being named "Female Figure Skating Athlete of the Year" by the USOC multiple times. She is also the recipient of the USOC's "Citizenship Through Sports Alliance Award" (2004).
Kwan is one of only two multiple winners of the "Readers' Choice Figure Skater of the Year" award given by Skating magazine (1994, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001–2003). In 2003, the United States Figure Skating Association, which publishes Skating, announced that the award would be renamed the "Michelle Kwan Trophy." The USFSA stated that although Kwan may continue to skate competitively, she will no longer be eligible for this award. She also appeared on International Figure Skating Magazine's "25 Most Influential Names in Figure Skating List" seven times, and was named the most influential skater for the 2002–03 season.
In 1999, Kwan was given the Historymakers Award by the Los Angeles Chinese American Museum. In 2010, she received an honorary doctorate's degree from Southern Vermont College and delivered the commencement speech for that year's graduation.
In January 2009, Kwan was appointed a member of the President's Council on Physical Fitness and Sports by George W. Bush. On May 3, 2009, Kwan was honored by the Los Angeles Chinese Historical Society of Southern California in "Celebrating Chinese Americans in Sports". In 2011, she was added to the board of the Special Olympics.
Kwan was the sole inductee for the 2012 United States Figure Skating Hall of Fame. She was also the sole inductee for the 2012 World Figure Skating Hall of Fame. In January, 2014, she was officially inducted into the Hall of Fame at the U. S. Nationals competition in Boston, Massachusetts.
|Season||Short program||Free skating||Exhibition|
Major events for Olympic-eligible skaters include the World Figure Skating Championships, the Olympic Winter Games, the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating, and for American skaters, the U.S. Championships. Kwan's record in these events is listed by season in the tables below.
|GP (CS) Final||1st||2nd||2nd||2nd||2nd|
|GP Nations Cup||1st|
|GP Skate America||7th||2nd||1st||1st||1st||1st||1st||1st||1st|
|GP Skate Canada||1st||1st||1st||2nd||3rd|
|GP Trophée de
France / Lalique
|U.S. Champ.||9th Jr.||6th||2nd||2nd||1st||2nd||1st||1st||1st||1st||1st||1st||1st||1st|
|GP = Became part of Champions Series in 1995–96, Grand Prix from 1998–99
J. = Junior level, WD = Withdrew, Alt = Alternate (did not compete)
On November 9, 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named Michelle Kwan as a public diplomacy ambassador. In this non-salaried position, Kwan represented American values especially to young people and sports enthusiasts and traveled widely. Kwan made her first overseas trip in the capacity of public diplomacy ambassador with a visit to China from January 17–25, 2007.
On April 15, 2011, it was announced that Kwan would serve as an adviser to U.S.-China Women's Leadership Exchange and Dialogue (Women-LEAD). In December 2012, it was reported that Kwan was a State Department senior adviser for public diplomacy and public affairs.
Kwan has guest starred as herself in "Homer and Ned's Hail Mary Pass", an episode of The Simpsons, and in the Family Guy episode "A Hero Sits Next Door". She has also made guest star appearances in the children's cartoon television series Arthur the PBSkids Series, and has also appeared in Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. She provided the voice of a shopkeeper in Disney's direct-to-DVD sequel Mulan II, and she and fellow figure skater Brian Boitano appeared as announcers in the film Ice Princess. She has performed in numerous figure skating programs, and has cameo appearances in various other television series. In 1999, she appeared in the Michelle Kwan Figure Skating computer game.
Kwan wrote an inspirational book for children titled, The Winning Attitude: What it Takes to be a Champion. She also wrote an autobiography, Heart of a Champion, at 17.
Kwan has had numerous endorsement contracts and has appeared in television commercials for sponsors including Campbell's Soup, VISA, Coca-Cola, and Kraft. The Chevrolet/Michelle Kwan R.E.W.A.R.D.S. Scholarship program was established by the Chevrolet Motor Division of General Motors in cooperation with Kwan. In February 2006, Kwan was named a "celebrity representative" for The Walt Disney Company.
Kwan has been a longtime supporter of Special Olympics, taking part in "unified sports" events, which bring together athletes with intellectual disabilities and without. She is also a member of the Special Olympics International Board of Directors.
In September 2012, Kwan announced her engagement to Clay Pell, director for strategic planning on the National Security staff at the White House and, as of February 2014[update], candidate for Governor of Rhode Island.
Kwan and Pell, the grandson of the late Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell, met in April 2011. The couple married on January 19, 2013 in Providence, Rhode Island. Vera Wang created a one of a kind strapless mermaid gown for Kwan's wedding. The dress consisted of silk organza and featured lace appliqué. Her makeup was done by New York City makeup artist, Timothy MacKay.
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