CNR AT THE WINTER GAMES INDEX PHOTOS - WOMENS' SPORTS AT CNR - CNR MAIN INDEX



February 12, 2006

KWAN

Sleep is a commodity during the Olympics, and a rare one at that.  Bedtime happens just before breakfast.  Awake time happens just after breakfast.  This morning, the lines were blurred completely when the announcement arrived that American figure skating legend Michelle Kwan, who got her spot on the U.S. team after petitioning the skating federation, had decided to withdraw from the Olympics.  

It took just one phone call to get me turned back to the International Broadcast Center, where the questions, situations, and storylines began to emerge at rapid pace.  “How do you pronounce the last name of her doctor?” one writer asked.  I called his answering service in Detroit, knowing that even though it was still the middle of the night there, an answering machine would live up to its moniker and actually give an answer.  The timeline of her withdrawal had to be established.  Notes on alternate Emily Hughes, sister of Salt Lake ladies figure skating gold medallist Sarah Hughes, had to be compiled.  Facts had to be figured out:  first sisters to compete in figure skating?  No.  First time an alternate was used?  No.  Without a gold medal is Kwan still the greatest ever?  With nine national and five world titles?  In a word:  Yes.

My thrill of the day came when I got to talk to Peggy Fleming about the whole course of events.  I changed from being a hardcore research/historian to a fan, hardly believing that I was talking to the Olympic legend.

So what happens now? Figure skating remains the most popular sport in the Winter Games, and this time around things are a bit more complicated with the changes in scoring. Gone are the 6.0s of the past.  Now skaters will be judged on a basis that awards technical points for jumps, spins, and step work – judges will subtract or add points depending on the execution of each element – and then five marks of presentation (transitions, performance, choreography, interpretation, skills).  Reigning U.S. champion Sasha Cohen may finally have her day here in Torino, while Kimmie Meissner, who is only the second American to ever land a triple Axel, will add some experience to her mere 16-year old self.  Russian Irina Slutskaya, the reigning world champion, will return for yet another go at it at the ripe old age of 27, and Japan looks to field its best team in years, with Fumie Suguri, Miki Ando, and Shizuka Arawaka taking the ice.

And please don’t forget the men, a rare plea in the world of sports.  American Johnny Weir, who is personality personified, will face the world, particularly Russian superstar and three-time world champ Yevgeny Plushenko, who seems all but unbeatable her in Torino, and is as much fun to watch as about anything else going on.

But please don’t forget about Kwan.  Because you don’t have to be in the Olympics to be an Olympian.





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