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Michelle Kwan: A Biography

Michelle Kwan, Tonya Harding, World Title

Michelle Kwan is one of the greatest figure-skaters of all time. Known for her compelling artistry, beautiful spiral positions, and technical consistency, she dominated the sport for over a decade.

Michelle Kwan: Early Life and Career

Michelle Kwan was born on July 7, 1980 in Torrance, California. She is the daughter of Danny and Estella Kwan, immigrants from Hong Kong.

Michelle Kwan began skating a the age of five. At age 10, she and her sister Karen began training with coach Frank Carroll. At age 12, Michelle successfully applied for entry as a senior-level skater, against Carroll’s advice.

In 1994, at age 13, Michelle Kwan gained national recognition as a rising star when she finished second behind Tonya Harding at the US Nationals. Although the USFSA had decided to give the second spot on the Olympic team to Nancy Kerrigan, Kwan was able to compete in the senior World Championships that season where she finished eighth.

Michelle Kwan: Breakthroughs

In 1996, Michelle Kwan achieved a pivotal breakthrough in her artistry with her program Salome. That year, she narrowly edged Lu Chen to win her first world title.

In 1997, Michelle debuted her change-of-edge spiral, which would eventually become her signature move. However, because of a growth spurt, she struggled with her jumps during her short program of the world championships and finished second overall behind compatriot Tara Lipinski.

Going into the 1998 Olympics, both Lipinski and Kwan were considered favorites for the gold, Tara as the reigning world champion and Michelle as the US national champion. Both Kwan and Lipinski and Kwan had skated beautifully and cleanly, but Lipinski’s program was a bit more difficult and she had skated later in the evening. Kwan won the silver medal behind Lipinski in a 6-3 vote.

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Following the Olympics, Kwan went on to win the world championships.

Michelle Kwan: Transitions

In the years leading up to the 2002 Olympics, Michelle Kwan continued to dominate figure skating, though she did struggle with stiffer competition in the form of Russians Irina Slutskaya and Maria Butyrskaya. Figure skating also saw the rise of a younger generation of skaters including Sasha Cohen and Sarah Hughes who were performing more difficult jump combinations.

In 1999, after struggling with her short program at the world championships, Michelle Kwan came back from fourth to finish second behind Maria Butyrskaya. In 2000, Kwan found herself in third place behind Cohen and Hughes after the short program, but came back to win the nationals and later the world title, temporarily silencing critics who suggested that she might be past her prime.

In 2001, Michelle Kwan edged Irina Slutskaya to win her fourth world title, effectively ending her Odd Year Curse. (Her previous titles had come in 1996, ’98, and ’00).

Michelle Kwan: Late Career

Going into the 2002 Olympics, Michelle Kwan was once again the favorite to win. Like the 1998 Olympics, Kwan had won the short program, but was unable to close the deal. She finished third in the long program and took home the bronze. Compatriot Sarah Hughes, who had come into the long program in fourth place, was able to come from behind to win gold.

At the season-ending world championships in 2002, long-time rival Irina Slutskaya finally achieved a career breakthrough to win her first title, leaving Kwan without either an Olympic or a world title for 2002. Incidentally, she had parted ways with longtime coach Frank Carroll in 2001, causing fans to question the decision.

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Michelle Kwa reboundeid to regain her world title in 2003. In 2005, Kwan won her ninth US national title, tying Maribel Vinson for an all-time record.

Michelle Kwan had hoped to compete in the 2006 Olympics in Torino, but injuries forced her to withdraw. She explained that she “respected the Olympics too much to compete.”

Michelle Kwan: Legacy

In spite of having never won an Olympic gold medal, Michelle Kwan remains one of figure skating’s greatest of all time. Her impressive resume includes two Olympic medals, five world titles, and nine national titles.

Yet it is not only her athletic accomplishments that endear her to her fans. Michelle Kwan is a well-rounded individual who values education as well as her sport. In 2009, she graduated from the University of Denver with a degree in international studies and a minor in political science. After graduation, she began her graduate program in international studies at Tufts University’s Fletcher School.

Michelle Kwan lives by the motto “work hard, have fun, and be yourself.”


Women’s History: Michelle Kwan, About.com

Michelle Kwan Biography, Biography.com

Quotes by Michelle Kwan, Good Reads

Figure skater Kwan dismisses longtime coach, SF Gate

Injured Kwan withdraws from Olympics, AP via MSNBC

Michelle among graduates at Saturday ceremony, DU Today