Injured Kwan's Olympic Skating Hopes Now Depend on a Committee

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Michelle Kwan warms up before the Marshalls U.S. Figure Skating Challenge in Boston last month

The commercials on NBC are already touting America's medal hopefuls for next month's winter Olympics, and most of them feature fan-favorite figure skater Michelle Kwan. But Kwan's Olympic dream may be in jeopardy after an injury forced her to withdraw from the U.S. national figure skating championship, the qualifying event for the Games. Whether or not she will compete in Torino is now in the hands of the 36 figure skating officials, judges, coaches and athletes that make up the international committee of the U.S. Figure Skating Association (USFSA).

Kwan, a nine-time U.S. champion and five-time world gold medalist, injured her groin, and has been unable to practice jumps or spins since mid-December. She had just recovered from a hip injury that kept her from competing at any international events in a season in which she is trying to make her third Olympic team.

Missing the nationals doesn't necessarily mean Kwan won't skate in Torino in pursuit of Olympic gold, the only medal to have eluded her. She is petitioning the USFSA for one of three spots on the ladies' team, and her fate will be decided on January 14, immediately after the ladies' event at nationals. Kwan said her doctor cleared her to begin jumping on January 13, barely enough time to prove she will be ready to compete in Torino. "I believe I will be 100% for the Olympics, and I feel that I have a shot to win," she said in a teleconference with reporters on Wednesday. "That's why I put this petition in."

This isn't the first time that Kwan's Olympic quest has depended on a committee decision. But the last time a female skater received an injury waiver onto the U.S. Olympic team, in 1994, it was Kwan who had to make way for Nancy Kerrigan despite finishing second at the nationals. Kerrigan was granted a spot after being struck on the knee by an accomplice of rival Tonya Harding during a practice session at nationals. "It's ironic that the last person bumped off the Olympic team was me in 1994," Kwan said. "But they do have rules for special circumstances."

While the committee generally sends the top three finishers from the nationals to the Olympics, this year they will consider each skater's performance at the nationals, as well as her results from earlier events, including last year's world championships, at which Kwan finished fourth.