Olympic Spectator Michelle Kwan "Very Happy" Off the Ice
The Olympics still make Michelle Kwan nervous — for a different reason now.
"I always get nervous watching friends and people that I know skate," Kwan tells TVGuide.com. "I want them to do well, but it's fun and exciting to be in Vancouver as a spectator now. When I was competing, I saw pretty much the village, the rink and the practice rink. Or physical therapy. That was my extent of the Olympics. Now I get to see a whole new side of the Olympics that I missed out on when I was competing."
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Kwan, the most decorated American figure skater in history (two Olympic medals, five world championships, nine U.S. championships), is keeping busy off the ice with two endeavors. She's covering the Winter Olympics for Good Morning America, after which she will head back to Tufts University, where she is pursuing a master's degree at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. "I'm missing classes now. That's the thing that's a little nerve-racking. ... But I couldn't pass this up," she says. "Being here for GMA has been a great experience."
In the past week, Kwan, 29, has checked out cross-country and ski-jumping events, scored second-row seats to the United States-Canada men's hockey game, cheered on her longtime friend, Evan Lysacek, when he won the men's figure skating gold ("I can't imagine a more deserving person"), was shocked at silver medalist Evgeni Plushenko's "uncharacteristic" and "unsportsmanlike" comments about Lysacek being an undeserving winner, and watched a whole lot more of figure skating.
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It brings back memories, she says, but it doesn't reignite her competitive spirit. Though Kwan is not officially retired, she hasn't competed since the 2005 world championships. Her 2006 Olympic comeback was derailed when she suffered a groin injury in practice. Kwan tearfully withdrew, leaving her glittering trophy case without an Olympic gold medal.
"It's one of those things where, no, I wasn't No. 1, and no, I didn't bring home the gold, but I'm very, very happy. I'm very, very privileged that I won the silver and bronze," she says. "It's not like a feeling of, 'Ugh!' anger, but it's like, 'Oh, bummer! So close!' But life goes on."
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After Torino, Kwan decided it was time to finish college. She enrolled at the University of Denver to complete the undergraduate work she started at UCLA seven years earlier. In June 2009, Kwan, who was named a public diplomacy ambassador by then Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in 2006, earned her bachelor's degree in international studies with a minor in political science.
Following graduation, Kwan returned home to Los Angeles and started to train again "as if I was going to compete at the Olympics," she says. But thoughts about Olympic glory went out the window once she was accepted into Tufts.
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"I love grad school. ... I'm very happy there," she says. "I joke, like, 'How can I possibly find another job that when they introduce your name, people give you a standing ovation or applause? When I finish a paper, my professor's not going to give me applause. Maybe an A, but not a standing ovation!' It's difficult, but international relations is something I've been passionate about. It kind of evolved from skating from traveling all over the world. Now being in grad school, I feel that I can actually explore the world, and that's why it's such a great adventure and challenge."
As for skating, Kwan participated in an exhibition last summer with South Korea's Kim Yu-Na, the overwhelming favorite to win gold in Vancouver on Thursday and the leader after Tuesday's short program.
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"She's been skating amazingly. But Mao Asada, Joannie Rochette, Miki Ando, and Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu are right there," Kwan says. "Everybody's been underestimating the strength of our teenagers, but Mirai's feisty and fearless, and Rachael is solid — The Rock. There's a lot of pressure on Yu-Na, Miki and Mao ... You never know how the skaters are going to react under such extreme pressure."
And does she know when or if she'll ever return to the ice?
"Fans always ask me about coming back. You never know. I have the summers off and I'm still skating," she says. "Hold your breath, but not for too long!"