Happy 36th birthday to the most decorated figure skater in United States history.
Michelle Wingswan Kwan is the youngest of Danny and Estella’s three children. Born in Torrance, California, on this date in 1980, her parents immigrated from Hong Kong and settled in the South Bay region of Los Angeles County. Michelle followed her siblings to the ice rink as a small child. The eldest, Ron, played hockey and Karen was a figure skater. Michelle began skating at five, and she and her sister began serious training three years later, practicing both before and after school for up to as many as four hours each day. The Kwans, who spoke a mixture of Cantonese and English in their home, were a working-class family and struggled to pay for their ever-increasing skating rink time. When Kwan was ten, she received financial assistance from the Los Angeles Figure Skating Club, allowing her to train at the Ice Castle International Training Center in Lake Arrowhead, California, a scenic mountain resort town overlooking the San Fernando Valley. In 1991, she began training with Frank Carroll, who would remain her coach throughout most of her career. Later that year, Kwan placed ninth at the junior level at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. At 12, she passed the gold test to become a senior-level skater. In 1993, Kwan finished sixth at her first senior U.S. championships before taking gold at the World Junior Championships later that year.
Kwan left Soleado Elementary School in eighth grade to be home schooled and her to focus more on skating. She finished second to Tonya Harding at the 1994 U.S. Championships, which would have placed her on the U.S. Olympic team, but that spot was given to 1993 national champion Nancy Kerrigan, who had been sidelined by an assault and battery after a practice session at those championships. The 13-year-old Kwan went to the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway [Daily Dose, June 17] as an alternate but did not compete. Two years later, she won both the U.S. and the World Championships. After finishing first at Skate America, Skate Canada and the U.S. championships, Michelle Kwan entered the 1998 Nagano Games with high expectations. After placing first in the Short Program, Kwan finished to second to Tara Lipinski, who retired from competitive skating shortly after the Olympics. Kwan went on to win three of the next four World Championships, three of the next four Skate America titles and four straight U.S. Championships from 1998 to 2002. After splitting with Carroll four months prior to the Olympics, she arrived in Salt Lake City as a favorite to win the gold. Kwan led after the short program, but fell on her triple flip during the free skate, taking bronze behind American Sarah Hughes, who finished first. She won two more international competitions in 2003 and earned a spot on the 2006 Olympic team. Days before the Turin Games, Kwan suffered a groin injury during practice, forcing her withdrawal and retirement from competitive figure skating.
Michelle Kwan, who Chinese name is Kwan Wing Shan, was a five-time World Champion and two-time Olympic medalist. She won nine U.S. national figure skating titles—including eight in a row between 1998-2005]– tying her with Maribel Vinson, who competed in the 1930s, for most of all time. Kwan skated with artistry, grace and athleticism to become the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history. Her five world championships tie her with Carol Heiss [1956-60] for most world titles by an American and her nine world medals is an American record. Kwan’s trademark moves included the change of edge spiral, charlotte spiral, Y-spin and split falling leaf. She was fluid and consistent, skating with “silent blades” that “barely whispered.” Miss Kwan received 57 career perfect scores [6.0]. Her best performance came at the 1998 U.S. Championships, where she earned a record 15 perfect marks of a possible 18 and reduced one judge to tears. In 2001, she became the second skater in history to win the Sullivan Award as best amateur athlete in America and was voted USOC Sportswoman of the Year in 2003. Kwan was named U.S. Figure Skater of the Year seven times, and the award is now called the Michelle Kwan Trophy. Miss Kwan graduated from the University of Denver [Daily Dose, 4/14/16 ] in 2009 before earning an international relations degree from Tufts in 2011. She married Clay Pell in January 2013.