SAN JOSE, Calif. — Michelle Kwan's career has come full circle.
Kwan was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame on Friday night in the same city where she won her first national title in 1996.
"When I look back at my skating career, I'm thankful for the years I was on the ice. Having the opportunity to go out and do what I love every day, with thousands and millions of people watching. It's a hobby, something I love doing," she said. "Yes, you might look back and say, 'It's a bummer I didn't win gold in '98 or 2002.' Yes, I could reflect back and think those thoughts. But to me, it was about moments. It was never about the medals, it was about loving what I do."
Kwan was the face of figure skating for a decade, beloved as much for her grace and humility in defeat as her long list of triumphs. Though she won five world and nine U.S. titles, she is best remembered for her heartbreaking finishes at the Nagano and Salt Lake City games. The favorite at each, she settled instead for a silver (1998) and a bronze (2002). Indeed, the image of her sobbing as she stood below a beaming Tara Lipinski on the Nagano medals podium is as enduring as her majestic performance at the national championships a month earlier.
Kwan made one last run at gold in 2006, but a groin injury forced her to drop out of the Turin Olympics two days after the opening ceremony.
"I miss everything about skating, to tell you truth," she said. "I miss the routine, I miss training every day, I miss my friends at the rink. I miss everything. I miss competing, I love performing. Skating is something that will always be close to my heart. That will always be there. How can you find a sport that you're so attached to and love so much and have so many fond memories of it?"
Asked if one memory stood taller than others, Kwan said her fondest was also her hardest: the 1998 U.S. championships in Philadelphia.
Kwan was in a cast with a stress fracture three weeks before nationals, which also served as the Olympic team trials. She said she had two options: Quit and say, "Better luck next time" or go ahead and skate.
"I took a deep breath and skated to 'Lyra Angelica' and it just took me to a place that was so liberating. That feeling is something I never experienced before. I think it was at that nationals that I realized that's what I have to remember. Put it in a bottle and carry it where ever I go. Every day remind myself to just have fun and love what I do," said Kwan, who was awarded 15 6.0s out of a possible 18 for her short program and free skate.
Kwan 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 received her master's degree from Tufts University in international relations last May.
"At one point in my life, it was about perfecting a certain technique, understanding music, self-improvement in skating," she said. "Now it's self-improvement in life in general. There's so much to learn and so much more that I hope I can grow into."
WEIR'S WORLD: Time off hasn't tamed Johnny Weir.
A week after announcing his comeback, Weir was at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday and no topic was off limits. The judging system, world champion Patrick Chan, "man-eating seaweed" — the three-time U.S. champ didn't shy away from any of it.
"It's not for winning an extra few gold medals in Grand Prixs and then a world medal. It's not about that. This comeback is for me," Weir said. "This comeback is for me to compete and feel great and feel I can do this and feel I can accomplish something. ... I can come back and completely enjoy it because I have a life. ... I don't have the pressure of being, 'You either win the Olympics or you work at Home Depot.' I'm not having that moment right now.
"I've built a life, I know what I'm capable of, I know what I can do. This figure skating thing won't define me."
Weir has always been delightfully refreshing, on and off the ice. He is one of the few skaters who speaks his mind, even when he knows it won't go over well with judges and federation officials, and he can be counted on for thoughtful answers on a variety of topics. His colorfulness is part of his massive appeal, and he's the rare athlete who's achieved crossover status, as likely to turn up on TMZ as on ESPN.
Weir embraces that celebrity, and hopes his return will help revive interest in skating.
"We've obviously been in a lull, as you all know. People don't really watch or come to events," he said. "I hope to ... bring attention to the amazing talents that are in this sport. That sounds pretty PC for me, but my time for an Olympic medal may have passed in 2006. ... This is to put figure skating back on the map with pop culture again. That's something I feel I'm in good position to do."
Make no mistake, though, Weir doesn't plan to be some sideshow. It will take time, but Weir thinks he can once again be a medal contender. He's already able to do all of his triple jumps again, as well as triple-triple combinations, and is hoping to be working on a quadruple jump by March. He would like to do at least one Grand Prix, but is open to going to lower-level international events to get face time with the judges.
And if it gets to be the end of the summer or early fall and he doesn't feel he can be competitive, than Weir said he will pull the plug on his comeback.
"I think it's definitely possible for me to get back to a place where people think of me as a threat," he said. "(But) I'm not a dumb person. I'm not going to throw myself out in front of the cameras of the world ... if I know in my heart I'm not good enough to be there."
ICE CHIPS: Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, the third U.S. ice dance team at the Vancouver Olympics, were back at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships with new partners. Bates and Madison Chock were fifth in the short dance while Samuelson and Todd Gilles were eighth. ... Margaret Faulkner, a judge from Ann Arbor, Mich., received the Jimmy Disbrow Award for outstanding spirit of dedication and contribution to the sport.