Michelle Kwan Ponders Return to Figure Skating

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Since her departure from figure skating three years ago, Michelle Kwan has meticulously laid the foundation for the rest of her life, lunching with heads of state, carrying out formal U.S. diplomatic missions in Ukraine, Russia, China and Argentina, and immersing herself in the study of international relations as a full-time student at the University of Denver.

Yet after finishing her degree last November, Kwan almost immediately resumed the serious on-ice training she had abandoned after withdrawing from the 2006 Winter Games because of an abdominal injury. Facing career questions any recent graduate faces, Kwan added an unusual one to the mix.

Should she try to earn a spot at the Winter Games in Vancouver next year?

The answer is not as obvious as in her teenage years. She doesn't know if she can muster the single-minded determination that drove her to five world titles. Though healthier and stronger than when she left, she isn't sure her body can withstand the pounding it used to take. And, even after three months of heavy training, she remains uncertain whether she can produce her former excellence.

"I want to see how far I can push myself and then make a decision," she said. "All options are out there. I'm not eliminating anything."

A return by Kwan, 28, would thrill the legions of loyal fans who adored her as she dominated her sport for a decade, winning nine U.S. championships and earning the distinction, in the minds of many, of being the greatest figure skater of all-time. It would also immediately improve the stature of the slumping U.S. women's program, which has sunk to its lowest level in decades with the International Skating Union's world championships set to begin today in Kwan's home town of Los Angeles.

And it would set the stage for fabulous theater if Sasha Cohen, a onetime rival to Kwan who also left competitive skating in 2006, similarly decided to come back. She, too, has said she is considering another Olympic run.

But a decision to stay out of the sport would leave Kwan free to pursue graduate school -- she said she has applied to a number of programs and is awaiting acceptance letters -- while continuing to further her career with the State Department. It would enable her to continue to dabble in television work; she has agreed to do color commentary for NBC during the world championships after having declined a similar offer when she pulled out of the 2006 Games.

It would also leave her competitive reputation unsmirched, while not preventing her from eventually joining a professional skating tour, a career path followed by many world and Olympic medal winners.

"I could train to get in shape to be in the Olympics, or to do a tour perhaps in the future, or it could be just chilling with my two nieces at the rink," she said. "That's where I'm at. . . . It's nice to have all of these options right now, because I am not sure."

Yet when someone at the rink recently remarked with awe that she had come so far after so much time off, the praise stuck with Kwan -- who admits it has been difficult to evaluate her own progress.

"I'm thinking I should already be doing long programs and triple-triples," she said, "considering how much I've done off the ice."

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