02/13/06 — Kwan’s swan song: Skating champion’s goodbye is something to be admired

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Kwan’s swan song: Skating champion’s goodbye is something to be admired

The announcement that world champion figure skater American Michelle Kwan will not be participating in this year’s Olympic figure skating competition is not earth-shattering news.

It won’t change the course of history, and although it is significant in the world of sports, it probably will have little lasting impact anywhere else.

But if you are looking for a role model of sorts for children and teenagers, or you are facing a difficult choice about your own future, this might be a lesson to point to for inspiration.

Ms. Kwan has earned every honor known to figure skating fans. She has been the American champion nine times, and she has captured five world titles.

But she has never stood on a dias and listened to her country’s anthem being played as she received an Olympic gold medal.

It was important to her, so she tried, hard, to get to Torino for one last chance — at the ripe old age of 25.

She had battled through injuries all year and had to petition to get on the Olympic squad.

So, this week, when another injury made it pretty clear she could not effectively compete, she gave up her spot — and her dream of Olympic gold.

Her final speech was touching. Obviously disappointed, she wished her replacement, Emily Hughes, well and explained that she was content with the decision — as hard as it was to give up. She put her country and her team first.

And that is what makes her so special.

There has been a lot of talk about how she got on the squad in the first place. Petitioning to be a member is not the same as earning the right the old-fashioned way.

And there is no question that she got to Torino on the wings of a career that has been unparalleled in her sport.

But what is wrong with that?

Michelle Kwan has earned her reputation as a competitor and a skater. There was no doubt as the emotional announcement was made this weekend that she has many, many admirers. There was nothing wrong with recognizing her excellence with the respect it deserved — or with being sad that she will not be a part of this year’s competition.

As part of her announcement, Ms. Kwan reminded her listeners that this is just a sport — and added that she will be forever proud of what she has accomplished, with or without gold.

We should be proud of the grace and poise with which she represented this nation. A nice change in the world of athletics that can often be characterized more by greed than class.

Published in Editorials on February 13, 2006 10:52 AM