Kwan Gets a Third Shot at Olympic Gold

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An injury kept her from competing last week at the U.S. National Figure Skating championships in St. Louis (which double as the qualifying event for the Olympics) but Michelle Kwan's spirit still pervaded the event like a stubborn ghost. The only question on everyone's mind throughout the eight-day competition: Would she or wouldn't she be given a berth on the Olympic team, and her third chance to win the only gold medal not in her trophy case? Kwan had petitioned the United States Figure Skating Association early in the week for an injury waiver onto the Olympic team after injuring her groin. Coaches, skaters, parents of skaters, even fans all had an opinion, and it was nearly unanimous—yes, absolutely; no question; some even felt that yes, she deserved to go but only because of her long legacy of titles and contributions to the sport. And after 45 minutes of deliberation, the United States Figure Skating Association agreed, by a vote of 20 to 3. They named Kwan to the U.S. ladies' figure skating team on Sunday morning, along with Sasha Cohen, who earned her berth by winning the ladies' championship, and Kimmie Meissner, who finished second. Kwan will have to undergo another evaluation before the end of the month, however, before the USFSA is convinced she will be fit enough to skate in Torino.

By placing Kwan on the team, the USFSA was forced to bump Emily Hughes, younger sister of 2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes, to the alternate position. Hughes's fate is one Kwan herself experienced in 1994, the last time a female figure skater was granted an injury waiver onto an Olympic team—that time, Kwan had to make way for Nancy Kerrigan, who had been clubbed in the knee during a practice session at Nationals and was forced to withdraw from the event. "When I heard the news, of course I was thrilled, but I also know what Emily is going through, because I can relate, because I was in the same position in '94," said Kwan by telephone from her home in Los Angeles after the announcement. Kwan will perform a run-through of both her short and long programs for a five-member USFSA monitoring panel by January 27; that committee will make the final determination on whether she is ready to skate at the Olympics. The United States Olympic Committee sends its final team roster to the International Olympic Committee by January 30. Kwan said Saturday night that if she is not fully recovered and ready to compete by the deadline, she will withdraw from the Olympics. "If I don't believe I'm 100% at my best, I don't think it would be good for me to go," she said.

Cohen, who had been battling a cold all week, did not skate a perfect long program, but it was enough to win her first national title after four second-place and one third-place finish. "I've been to so many national championships, and this was the first one where I can take home gold," she said. "Looking at the color on the podium, I thought 'Wow, this one's nice.' " Meissner, the 16-year old sensation who became only the second U.S. woman to land a triple axel jump in competition at last year's event, impressed the judges with a technically difficult program bursting with nine jumps, but took a fall on one. The youngster, still fresh to the spotlights that will now follow her to Italy, dissolved into giggles several times during the post-competition press conference, unable to believe she had the silver medal around her neck. "It's amazing, it's been one of my dreams, and it's kind of crazy that it's coming true," said Meissner after learning she had earned an Olympic berth. "I don't even know what to say. I'm so excited, so happy."