It was a moment so many of her faithful fans had wished for.
And when Michelle Kwan took to the ice at the Staples Center in Los Angeles for the “All That Skate LA” shows in early October, they were not disappointed.
As she skated to centre ice, the crowd rose to its feet, acknowledging the return of one of the world’s most decorated champions.
It was a surreal moment for Kwan.
As the five-time World champion waited backstage for the first show to begin, in an arena that was oh so familiar, the memories came flooding back.
“When I stepped onto the ice for the opening number, even before they announced my name I was like, ‘Oh, this is so amazing,’” Kwan recalled.
“It was like a dream. The last four years I have not really watched much skating, and I felt a little disconnected. So to be reconnected with the sport I love and to be part of such a great show was so special.”
Kwan, a two-time Olympic medalist, said it was an honor to be performing with a cast that included three reigning Olympic champions. “At first I was thinking, they have an Olympic gold medal and I don’t. But when I saw a ticket stub which read ‘...starring Yu-Na Kim and Michelle Kwan,’ I was like, wow. It was pretty neat,” she said with a laugh.
“The cast was great. We all got along so well. Xue Shen and Hongbo Zhao are a love story on ice. Watching them over the years and understanding the sacrifices they made ... for them to end their competitive career with an Olympic gold medal was incredible. Skating is not only a sport, it is a passion, and they embody that.”
The L.A. shows marked the third time Kwan had performed with Kim. In 2009 Kwan made her South Korean debut at the “Ice All Stars” shows. She did not hesitate when an invitation was extended to join the “All That Skate” cast for a series of shows in the Asian nation last July.
“I have had many opportunities to do other shows, but nothing ever really grabbed me,” Kwan explained. “But the Korean fans, the quality of the shows and skating with Yu-Na was what drew me in the first place.”
Kwan and Kim have forged a solid bond over the past year. “I want to say Yu-Na and I were first introduced in 2007 or 2008 through my sister, Karen,” Kwan recalled. “She talked to me about Yu-Na’s artistry and said I should watch her performances on YouTube.
“When I finally met Yu-Na at 2009 Worlds, I realized we shared a common bond. She has that passion for skating, and I think that is what really connected us. “We talk. I told her how I trained, how I got into a routine where I did all the hard stuff first every day and got it out of my way.
“I would do my short and long prog-rams in the first 15 minutes because that was the only way I was able to relax and enjoy the rest of the day.
“I have carried that mentality and that perspective into my current life. I get all the hard stuff done in the morning, and I coast through the rest of the day,” Kwan explained.
Kwan’s performances in Los Angeles marked the first time in four years the American skating icon had performed on U.S. soil.
“It was hard to believe it had been so long since I last performed in the States. My parents are always saying how time flies,” Kwan said. “But I have been very busy with school and my studies and a number of projects for the State Department, so I have been traveling a lot and doing different things.”
With the lure of the 2010 Olympic Games on the horizon Kwan contemplated a return to the competitive arena in 2009. “I started getting programs ready, but I was still deciding between competing and going back to school.”
Kwan opted for school after being accepted into the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Boston’s prestigious Tufts University.
“It is a new path, and I just love it. I am able to go to school and do my classes, and then one weekend fly to Los Angeles and skate at the Staples Center. No big deal,” she said with a hearty laugh.
The enigmatic champion said there are moments when she misses the daily grind of training.
“When I was competing I never thought there would be a day when I would not be thinking about run-throughs of a short program, a long program, doing footwork and choreography. Sometimes I miss that routine,” Kwan said.
“But then again, when I am on the ice and I watch skaters gearing up for nationals, just trying to make it through their long program, I am like, ‘Well, I kind of miss it but I kind of don’t.’ I was joking with Yu-Na about that a few days before the L.A. shows.”
Kwan feels truly blessed with the hand life has dealt her. “I wake up every day and say to myself I am so lucky. I have found two things in my life that I love — my skating career and now school,” she said.
“Some of my classmates asked me what I was doing because I was not in the library as much in the early fall. They thought I was only taking a couple of classes. When I told them I had been performing in a skating show and that it was on TV, there were a thousand questions. They were like, ‘How do you do it?’
“I can tell you, when it comes to mid-terms or finals, I get no breaks.”
The theme of the “All That Skate” shows this year was one Kwan eagerly embraced. “It was all about dreaming, and hopefully any young skaters who saw the shows were motivated to go out and be the best that they can be,” she said.
Performing in the U.S. after such a long hiatus was a dream come true for Kwan, who turned 30 in July. “To have the opportunity to skate in my hometown, in that amazing show at that arena, was surreal,” she said. “It was very special.”
Originally published in February 2011