Michelle Kwan: Online Interview
- Published: October 19, 2003
The most decorated figure skater in U.S. history, Michelle Kwan’s skating brilliance and accomplishments have earned her a place among the all-time greats of the sport. In her career she has won an unprecedented 41 championships, including five World Championships (1996, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2003), six consecutive and seven overall National Championships (1996, 1998-2003), and two Olympic medals (silver-1998, bronze-2002). In the nearly 100-year history of ladies figure skating, Kwan’s five World titles and eight overall world medals (five gold, three silver) in eight consecutive years (Since 1996.) are all marks that have been bettered only by the immortal Sonja Henie (10 titles/11 medals/11 consecutive years). In the annals of American figure skating, Kwan’s accomplishments are equally extraordinary. Her seven national titles are second only to the legendary Maribel Vinson (9); her six consecutive US crowns ties Vinson (1928-33) and Gretchen Merrill (1943-48) for the longest winning streak in US history; her mark of 10 national medals (7 gold, three silver) has only been surpassed by Vinson (11); her 10 consecutive medals at the US Championships (1994-2003) is a record shared only by Theresa Weld Blanchard (1914-1924); and her five World titles is a feat matched only by Carol Heiss and Dick Button, nearly a half century ago. In addition, Kwan is the only woman in figure skating history to reclaim the World title three times (1998, 2000, 2003). The artistry and grace of those winning performances have truly put this skating phenom in a class by herself.
In her career, Kwan has received 37 perfect 6.0 marks in major competitions, the most of any skater in history. Kwan’s program at the 1996 Worlds, skated to the music of Salome, earned her two 6.0s and is considered one of the most spectacular in World Championships history. Her winning long and short performances at the 1998 U.S. Nationals, where she received 15 perfect 6.0 marks (out of a possible 18) for artistry over the course of the event is the most by any skater in the history of U.S. figure skating and has been called “the gold standard for future generations of figure skaters”. She was awarded three 6.0’s at the 2003 World Championships. Two of those came for her free skate which has been described as “pure beauty, with the kind of ease and grace other skaters can only dream of”.
Last season, Kwan won all three Olympic-style events in which she competed, capturing her fourth consecutive and seventh career Skate America title; her sixth consecutive and seventh career US National Championship; and her fifth World Championship crown. In the course of the year earned four more 6.0 marks – one at the US Nationals (where she now has a career 28) and three at the World Championships (career 6). At her first competition of the 2003-04 season, Kwan placed second at the Campbell’s International Skating Classic.
Kwan’s skating accomplishments have earned her numerous awards and honors, including: the 1998 Sportswoman of the Year by the Women’s Sports Foundation; the 2001 Sullivan Award as the top amateur athlete in America; the 2002 and 2003 Kids’ Choice Award and the 2002 Teen Choice Award as America’s favorite female athlete; a 2002 CosmoGirl! of the Year for her accomplishments and inspiration to others; five-time Female Athlete of the Year in figure skating by the U.S. Olympic Committee (1996, 1998-2001); and a record eleven USOC Athlete of the Month awards. This past year Kwan earned her seventh U.S. Figure Skating Skater of the Year Award (1994, 1996, 1998, 1999, 2001-2003), the only multiple winner of the prestigious award. In an unprecedented move, the U.S. Figure Skating renamed the award in her honor. Starting in 2004 it will be called the Michelle Kwan Trophy.
Kwan began skating at age 5 after watching her older brother play hockey and won her first competition at the age of 7. Kwan has enjoyed great success in the entertainment world. Her primetime TV special Reflections On Ice: Michelle Skates to the Music of Disney’s Mulan, was selected as the Best-Produced Skating Special 1998-99. Kwan’s autobiography, Michelle Kwan: Heart of a Champion (Scholastic, Inc.) was published in 1997 and is now in its sixth printing. Kwan also authored 2 books for Hyperion (The Winning Attitude! and My Special Moments) and collaborated on the 6-book fiction series Michelle Kwan presents Skating Dreams. Kwan also stars in her own interactive video game, Michelle Kwan Figure Skating (Electronic Arts).
Kwan serves as a national spokesperson for the Children’s Miracle Network Champions Across America Program. Kwan was also selected as one of People Magazine’s “50 Most Beautiful People in the World” for 2000. She helped create the Chevrolet/Michelle Kwan R.E.W.A.R.D.S. Scholarship Program, which awards scholarships to outstanding college-bound female student/athletes. Kwan has recently signed as a spokesperson for the Walt Disney Company. Her older sister, Karen Kwan, was a top skater, finishing fifth at the 1996 U.S. National Championships. Kwan’s skating philosophy is to “work hard, be yourself and have fun!”
Phillip L: When you decide to stop competing (which hopefully will not be anytime soon), do you think you would be interested in commentating?
MK: I would love to do some commentating. I think it would be fun to share my views on figure skating and the beauty of it with the viewers. I would also like to branch out and commentate for other sports like gymnastics, swimming, even football…I think it would be fun learning about these sports, plus I would ask questions about the sport which I’m sure first time viewers would also ask.
Jamie: Which is your favorite skating costume and why?
MK: One of my favorite costumes is the purple dress I wore for the Olympics in Salt Lake City. Vera Wang made it. Everytime I wore it I skated well and I felt really glamourous in it. Another favorite is the “96 short program dress (Flamenco program, spanish style). Red is one of my fave colors. When I wore the dress and had my hair up I felt like a Spanish dancer!!
Felicia: Which of your skating memories/moments do you hold closest to your heart?
MK: The most memorable and cherished memory was the “93 Olympic Festival in San Antonio. I skated in front of the biggest crowd at the Alamodome. The crowd was amazing, the moment was magical.
Rachel L.: What are some of you’re favorite backstage memories from Champions on Ice?
MK: There are so many backstage memories at Champions on Ice. I think the best was hanging with Dorothy Hamil and Brian Boitano in the RV’s watching silly movies before we skated. We all skated near the end of the show so this helped pass the time between the group opening number and when we had to perform our individual numbers.
Jenny S: When you are on tour with COI, do you have time to do things in the cities you travel to and if so, what do you do for fun?
MK: When I’ m on COI there is plenty of time for us to do things in the cities that we are in. For example: I meet a lot of people around the country and world, so if there is a friend that I know in the city I’m in I take advantage of that and call them up for dinner/lunch or invite them to the show if I don’t have too much time.
MG: What is your favorite music to listen to on your free time?
MK: I listen to a lot of hip hop music. I love dancing to Justin Timberlake, 50 cent, Eminem, J Lo. When I want to relax I chill out to Sade, Seal, Tracey Champman, Eva Cassidy.
James G.: In looking back to the sacrifices your parents made when you first showed promise as a figure skater, do you recall how you felt or what you were thinking? How do you feel now about it now?
MK: I’ll never forget and always be thankful for the sacrifices that my parents made for my skating. I wouldn’t be where I am today without their support. My parents always encouraged my sister, brother and I to take up a sport. I don’t ever remember a SINGLE moment that I felt like I was going to achieve as much as I have. But I do remember having fun competing, and loving the crowd cheering!!
Jackie: Could you give us a tip or two on how to do a good Charlotte?
MK: Being flexible is not something that came easily to me. I remember being the most unflexible skater in the world. Early on, the only time I could do the splits was in my dreams! What can I say but dreams do come true!! I stretched ever night. My dad would make fun of me because I would be stretching when we watched TV before bed. I guess it takes a lot of balance for a good Charlotte, plus flexibility.
Cindi: Was your father able to see you compete at worlds?
MK: My dad has seen me compete at every single worlds. Actually, he has been to almost all of my competitions.
Anna: It seems that Scott Williams has really found a way to both motivate and calm you. Have you nagged him to teach you the “Barrel Rolls” yet?
MK: I haven’t nagged Scott to teach me Barrel Rolls yet! I think it’s a guy thing, but I will have to ask him tomorrow!! Thanks for the idea.
Rgirl: What are some of your favorite movies and why?
MK: One of my favorite movies is “Gladiator” because it inspired me to be tough, like a warrior. I also like “Rudy” because it makes you believe in your dreams even if all odds are against you.
Lovespirals: From the start of your senior skating career to now, what do you consider to be THE most important thing you’ve discovered about yourself?
MK: One of the most important thing that I’ve discovered in myself is that you have to live for yourself, make yourself happy. It’s difficult to try and please others. It has to come from the heart.
Kaye: Have you ever given consideration in making a movie? What about any interests in becoming an actress?
MK: I have taken a few acting classes. I think acting is really difficult. People believe it’s simple, but it’s an art and takes a lot of practice, just like figure skating. I’ve been approached a few times to do movies, but I never felt ready enough to dive right into it…. Maybe in the future. There are great opportunities for me and I would like to be adventurous and explore everything.
Robin L.: When you are preparing to skate your program do you try and block out the audience or do you listen to them as a way to pump yourself up? Also, at any point in the competition, do you try to read all the signs fans are holding up for you? Which signs stand out in your memory?
MK: It depends how I feel. Sometimes I’m so in the zone that I tune everything out, audience, music, I hear only my heart beating and the sound of my breath. I guess I listen to how my mind and body feels.
Sarah: You have mentioned in the past that you like decorating your house. Are you a fan of “trading spaces” and if so who’s your favorite designer?
MK: I like Trading Spaces. I don’t have one favorite designer. I also like watching Food TV. I bake and cook all the time. My sister and dad always eat my experiments.
Paula: How do you feel about your performance at the Campbell’s International Skating Classic?
MK: The summer was slow for me. I recently changed my skates and I’m not quite comfortable with them yet. As I was going through the program, I would do (something) and think to myself, “I need to work on this.” It was definitely a survival of the fittest for me.
Paula: Michelle, in addition to the above questions, many more comments of support, admiration, and congratulations were sent from your fans. We all want to thank you so much for taking the time to interact with your fans and understand your schedule prevented you from answering other questions. So with that being said, is there anything you’d like to add?
MK: Thanks for all your support over soooooo many years, Keep cheering loud!