In light of the sad withdrawal of Michelle Kwan from the Olympic figure skating competition, I pulled out my homemade videos from the 1998 and 2002 Olympics and watched Michelle’s programs.
Michelle's short program to Rachmaninoff was truly a masterpiece, of the finest short programs ever skated at the Olympics, in my opinion. Michelle skated with speed, passion, assurance, and beautiful technique. The highlight, to me, was Michelle’s glorious spiral, when she started at the piano crescendo. The judges clearly loved the program as well, as they awarded her scores across the board that were generally .2 higher than her closest competitor, Tara Lipinski.
NBC broadcast footage of Michelle and Tara practicing for the long program, with Scott Hamilton and Verne Lundquist commentating. Verne asked Scott if he would be shocked if anybody other than Michelle or Tara won the gold medal, and Scott replied, “Yes, definitely. Michelle and Tara are clearly the best skaters in the world at this time. They are the favorites for the gold medal.” He added, “Michelle is considered so much better than the rest of the field, and the judges reflected this opinion with their scores. She can probably make one major mistake in her long program and still win the title.”
Michelle’s long program to “Angela Lyrica” was lovely, if a bit tentative. She skated first in the final flight, and she looked a little tense throughout her program. It looked as though she two-footed her triple flip, and a few of the landings of her other triples were somewhat shaky. She received marks in the 5.7 to 5.9 range, good marks, but the judges were leaving room for other skaters. When Michelle came off the ice, she was emotional, crying, and ‘letting go’ with her tension.
Tara Lipinski skated the long program of her life, with a wonderful 3/3 triple loop, and she won the gold medal. Michelle Kwan was shown wiping a tear as she walked from the locker room to the ice. She smiled graciously when she accepted her silver medal, and she looked as though she accepted what had happened.
Later, when Tara and Michelle were interviewed by NBC, and they were both asked for their future plans, Tara responded that she was taking one day at a time and could not predict what she might do in the immediate future. Michelle responded that she was proud to have won the silver medal and she looked forward to continuing on as a competitive figure skater through the next Olympics.
2002, Salt Lake City:
Michelle came into the Olympics as one of the favorites, but not as ‘the favorite’ to win the title. Many expected Irina Slutskaya to win the gold medal, as she was the reigning Grand Prix champion and had outskated Michelle in several competitions. Michelle’s short program was beautiful, and she won that phase of the competition. Her long program, however, skated to Schehazarade, was her undoing. She followed Sarah Hughes, who had skated a wonderful program with two triple/triple combinations. Michelle’s opening triple/triple toe became a triple/double toe, as she did not land the first triple cleanly. She later nearly fell on her triple flip. While the rest of the program was strong, and her choreography was lovely, the program was lacking in technical content. Michelle’s technical marks were below Sarah, while she pretty much tied Sarah in the presentation mark. She was in 2nd place in the long program, but she was still in first place overall.
Had Irina Slutskaya won the long program, she would have won the gold medal, and had Irina finished third in the long program, Michelle would have won the gold medal. As it happened, it was a split decision, with Sarah winning the long program, Irina finishing second, and Michelle third. The cameras panned to the back of the arena and showed Sarah and her coach, Robin Wagner, joyously celebrate their victory. The cameras also showed Michelle walking hand-in-hand with her father, struggling to hold back tears.
Michelle was interviewed by NBC shortly thereafter, and she was gracious and composed. She said, “It just wasn’t my night tonight. I guess it wasn’t meant to be.” She accepted her bronze medal with a smile, congratulated Sarah and Irina, and looked happy. Perhaps it was an act, but she looked pleased to have won another Olympic medal. Later, she was interviewed wearing a “gold medal” that Dorothy Hamill had given to her. Michelle said, “This is the medal I wanted to win, but I’m happy to have won another medal.”
Michelle, thanks for the memories!