Kwan Gets Last Shot at Olympic Gold

Friday, January 27th 2006, 6:40 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ With jumps, spins and those majestic spirals, Michelle Kwan showed she is good _ and healthy _ enough Friday and earned one more run at that elusive Olympic gold medal.

Kwan sealed the spot on the U.S. Olympic team that she was handed two weeks ago, proving to a five-person monitoring committee that she's recovered from the groin injury that kept her out of the national championships. She performed both her long and short programs in less than 12 minutes, a quick practice session, and did every one of her jumps except the triple loop.

The 95-minute session, which included a 45-minute break, was conducted at the East West Ice Palace in Artesia, Calif., her home rink. and was monitored by U.S. Figure Skating international committee chairman Bob Horen; technical controller Charlie Cyr; world judge Paula Naughton; international judge Lorrie Parker; and athlete representative Brittney Bottoms.

Kwan curtsied to the committee when the session was over, then went to await its decision.

That decision was exactly what she wanted to hear: Kwan is going to Turin.

``It feels awesome,'' Kwan said.

``When I first put in the petition I believed I would be 100 percent at the Olympics, and I still believe it.''

The committee agreed.

``It is truly the opinion of this monitoring team that Michelle could win the Olympics,'' Horen said. ``We really believe that, and she skated that way. We really do believe she's skating very well.''

Kwan, 25, a five-time world and nine-time U.S. champion, has stuck around the last four years in hopes of one more shot at Olympic gold. She went to Nagano and Salt Lake City as the gold-medal favorite, but wound up with silver (1998) and bronze (2002).

In Turin, Kwan will join Sasha Cohen, who won her first national championship earlier this month, and 16-year-old Kimmie Meissner on the U.S. team. Emily Hughes, younger sister of 2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes and bronze medalist at nationals, will be the alternate in case one of the three is injured before women's figure skating begins Feb. 19.

``I have a lot of work and a lot of improvement to make,'' Kwan said, but she expressed confidence, especially if she can add a triple-triple combination to her program.

``One of the reasons why I put in the petition is that I do have a shot. I can't tell you the percentage. I will take advantage of that shot and do my best. As of now I'm right on schedule. I will have to make a few more steps; one of those is triple-triple. My chances are higher to win if I have the triple-triple in the program.''

Kwan had to ask for a medical bye onto the Turin team after withdrawing from nationals with a groin injury. Her petition was granted _ but under the condition she prove to the monitoring committee she's ready to compete in Turin.

Dressed in a black sweatshirt and warm-up pants, with her hair pulled back into a ponytail, Kwan smiled and gave someone a small salute as she approached the ice Friday morning. Once she stepped onto the ice at 11:02 a.m. PST, though, she was all business.

``You know today was not the Olympics,'' Kwan said, but added, ``It was pretty intense this morning at the rink, a situation I never was in before. I was thinking this is not a normal practice session.

``Nothing is ever certain. You finish skating, that is all you can do, and you wait and see.''

The monitors stood behind the boards where the hockey benches would be, and several U.S. Figure Skating and U.S. Olympic Committee officials sat on the other side of the rink, along with two pool reporters.

Kwan began with some leisurely skating around the ice, then warmed up with some jumps. She did a couple of doubles, then a triple flip, triple salchow and triple lutz. Eight minutes after the session began, she started her long program, Rachmaninoff's ``Prelude in C Sharp Minor.''

She skipped the first element, probably a double axel, but looked solid the rest of the way. She didn't have her usual theatrical flair, appearing to focus more on technique and execution rather than performance.

She did three triples _ one as part of a triple toe loop-double toe loop-double toe loop combination that earned applause from coach Rafael Arutunian. After the spirals that have become her trademark, she finished the program with a double lutz.

She showed little reaction when she finished and looked serious as the monitors discussed their notes. Only four minutes later, she started her short program. She fell on a double axel, evoking an unwanted flashback.

``I fell on a double axel. That is how I pulled my groin,'' Kwan said.

But she immediately landed a triple lutz-double toe combination, and other than a shaky landing on her triple flip, the rest was solid.

She wore a big smile and a look of relief when she finished the second program. While the committee huddled and examined their notes, Kwan stayed on the ice and did a perfect double axel followed soon after by another one.

After a few mintues, she skated over to the monitors to analyze her short program, looking at how she could enhance the difficulty or execution of her elements. By 11:36 a.m., she was gathering up her jackets and pants and leaving the ice.

After a 45-minute break, she returned so she and the monitors could evaluate the elements in her long program. The focus was entirely on her footwork, spins and spirals, which have specific difficulty levels under figure skating's new judging system.

They began with her straight-line footwork, which had great speed and intricate steps. When she finished, Cyr talked about using the entire surface and Kwan skated over to examine some of her tracings.

After a few minutes of consultation, she went to work on her spirals. As she skated away from the committee, she passed the stereo and reached out with her left hand to flip it on without breaking speed.

Finally, she went through her spins, spending most of the time working at center ice on a flying camel with a front inside edge. Cyr gave her several suggestions, and they could be heard laughing at times.

After a few more minutes of consultation, she tried the spin for a fourth time, changing the angle of her body and her arm position. Cyr clapped and said, ``That's it.''