Sunday, February 21, 2010

Michelle Kwan: Olympic Tragedy

What is there to say about Michelle Kwan? Well, quite frankly, a lot. During her time as a competitive figure skater, the girl had won 9 U.S. Championships, 5 World Championships and 2 Olympic medals - a silver in Nagano ('98) and a bronze in Salt Lake City ('02.) She was (and probably still is) one of the most talented figure skaters in the world, having delicately and tastefully strutted her athletic ability in countless competitions across the globe, always with the grace and beauty of an artistic performer well beyond her years.

But my heart always breaks for Michelle Kwan every time the Winter Olympics come to town. I shutter just thinking that this brilliant skater's mantel is vacant of a gold Olympic medallion, reflecting the glow of a mid-winter's fire off of its glimmering surface. She's the reason I got into figure skating in the first place. During the winter of '97, I can remember watching all of the pre-Olympic competitions with my mother and aunt, who championed her and not the other Americans performing that year (cough cough, nose-job-needing Tara Lipinski.) I ended up loving Michelle. She was cute, she was exhilarating to watch on the ice and what's even cooler, she has the same birthday as me (although seven years my senior.)

In my eyes, Michelle Kwan was robbed of a gold medal twice, first by nose-job Lipinski (who eventually got one, I believe) in '98 and later on in Utah, by two skaters whose names are escaping me now. I actually cried during that second Olympics. I couldn't believe that Michelle had only come away with the bronze. And what was worse - the number that she skated to AFTER the competition was over (all of the skaters performed a number for the crowd after the ceremonies were done) was Sting's "Fields of Gold," decked out in a sheer shiny gold dress, a hint of a tear in the corner of each eye. Even she knew that she should have won that year.

Let's face it - winning the gold medal for your sport in any other competition except the Olympics is like winning an acting award in any other category except the Oscars. Simply put, it just doesn't matter. If you haven't achieved your life's goal, which was to get to the Olympics and be awarded the highest honor for your years of sacrifice and dedication and ultimately, your unconditional love for the sport, you haven't achieved your nirvana. Your ecstasy. Your final satisfaction and your free pass to retire in happiness. It doesn't matter how great you may be - without that medal, you suffer internally, forever, the doubts of what your years of practice and patience were worth. And you always wonder why you weren't good enough.

I wouldn't be saying this right now if Michelle's face hadn't said it for her during the 2002 Olympic games. Although she stood up there, at a lower altitude than the other two performers on the podium, she looked numb. And disappointed. I don't blame the poor girl. And since Michelle, I have never gotten close to any other female figure skater. The heartbreak is just too much.

::Cue the sobs::

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