To her nine U.S. and five world championships, Michelle Kwan can now add the title of Hall of Famer.
The most decorated figure skater in American history, Kwan was elected to the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame on Thursday, the only selection for the class of 2012. That seems fitting considering how Kwan soared above the competition during her career.
"It seems like I have come full circle," Kwan said. "From my first nationals to now being elected to the Hall of Fame, it has been amazing."
Kwan had an amazing career, winning 43 championships, including eight straight national titles. She also won the silver medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics and bronze at the 2002 Games. She earned 57 perfect 6.0 marks in major events under the old scoring system, the most of any skater.
Perhaps her most dominant performance came in Philadelphia for the 1998 U.S. championships, which also served as the Olympic team trials. Kwan was awarded 15 6.0s out of a possible 18 for her short program and free skate.
"I think that was the one moment I kind of found it, found the purity of it. It was so pure," Kwan said. "It was the purity of loving what you do and loving figure skating."
Kwan, who will be inducted into the hall during the national championships at the end of January in San Jose, Calif., has served as a public diplomacy envoy for the U.S. government for the last five years. During that time, she graduated from the University of Denver with a degree in international studies, then in May received her master's degree from Tufts University in international relations.
Her hope is to have as much of an impact through the rest of her life as she did when skating.
Kwan rose to skating prominence in 1994 during the Tonya-Nancy skating saga. After placing second at the national championships in which Nancy Kerrigan was injured by an attacker and forced to withdraw, Kwan was an alternate for the U.S. Olympic team at age 13. She even went to Norway, but Kerrigan recovered and finished second at the games.
Still, Kwan had made an impression on the skating community with how she handled that unique situation. By 1996, she was making strong impressions on skating judges, winning her first national and world championships.
For nearly a decade, she was the sport's dominant performer, many of those years working with Hall of Fame coach Frank Carroll.
Known for artistry and consistency, Kwan was willing to gamble on her programs, which ranged from the classical to the exotic. There were other skaters who jumped better or spun more tightly. No one had the full package, though, like Kwan.
While many casual fans might remember Kwan for finishing behind Tara Lipinski in 1998 and Sarah Hughes in 2002 at the Olympics, her overall achievements are unparalleled in skating — and in most sports.
"Just being able to represent figure skating, the country and the federation," Kwan said, "all I can say is it's a real honor."