The Reason Behind Michelle Kwan’s Break From The Spotlight

Published on 02/10/2020
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The famous figure skating champion, Michelle Kwan, stole the show and hearts of the world during the 1998 Olympics. However, where is Michelle Kwan now? Fans around the globe have been wondering whether it is the injury that has put her off the map. How can someone with so much attention on them simply disappear like such? Read on to find out exactly why this superstar decided to retreat away from the cameras.

The Reason Behind Michelle Kwan’s Break From The Spotlight

A Sensational Figure Skater And So Much More

First, let’s reminisce on just how Michelle Kwan managed to work her way into the hearts of the world and a well-deserved front and center spot. Kwan competed at the Olympic games in 1998 and 2002 but this is not her only claim to fame.

A Sensational Figure Skater And So Much More

A New Era Of Figure Skaters

She was graceful and simply sensational. She represented a new age and new era, as she embodied such fame and became an athlete to truly watch out for. It looked as though nothing was getting in the way of Kwan. A few years later, this ideal came crashing down as she was injured.

A New Era Of Figure Skaters

Quite The Successful Athlete

Michelle Kwon won multiple U.S Figure Skating Competitions nine times, she has five world champion titles, and has two Olympic medals. We cannot forget her astounding score of 60 throughout her professional competitive run as a skater. The reason she became such a success is due to many aspects.

Quite The Successful Athlete

The Beginning

July of 1980 on a lovely Californian summer day- Michelle Kwan was born to her adoring parents. Danny and Estella Kwan were aspiring and loving parents who immigrated from China. The family resided in Torrance, California.

The Beginning

Following In Their Footsteps

Michelle inherited her figure skating passion, as her siblings, Ron and Karen, were also very interested in ice-skating oriented sports. The little 5-year-old Michelle decided to follow in her siblings’ footsteps.

Following In Their Footsteps

She Started Young

Kwan first got moving on the ice when she was 5, she instantly fell in love with the enchanting thought of figure-skating. Although she wouldn’t make it to the big leagues just yet, she was having tons of fun freely enjoying her extra-activities and in her spare time hanging with family.

She Started Young

Amazing Support System

It is extremely rare to succeed as a professional athlete in the world we live in today, the sports industry today is just so competitive. Michelle was able to accomplish this rarity with her family by her side- as a team in fact.

Amazing Support System

Leaving Hong Kong For The U.S.

In 1971 her parents made the journey to the U.S and regardless of being in America for as long as they were, Michelle’s athletic requirements were tough upkeep. Michelle said to CAPE, “You know, when I was 17 years old, my wish came true.”

Leaving Hong Kong For The U.S.

The Keys To Success

She continued, “…and it was because of the sacrifices, the hard work, and all that went into the efforts of my parents, and also the hard work of trying to make it.” Without family and dedication, Kwan would not be where she is today.

The Keys To Success

Secret Of Success Revealed

Michelle was and still is an icon to the female world of athletics, being one of the most popular figure skaters to live. Her success is embedded in the values her parents instilled with her as well as all the hard work, dedication, passion and skill she eluded and of course her coaches and trainers.

Secret Of Success Revealed

Figure Skating Trumped All

This dedication put her above the rest. To this day Michelle is eternally grateful to all the individuals who assisted her along the way. It is a shock to some that Michelle was interested in an array of activities when she was growing up in the ’80s. What made figure-skating stand out above the rest?

Figure Skating Trumped All

Activities Kwan Took Part In

The Kwan sisters were extremely involved in extra-mural activities- piano, tap-dancing and much more. Parents would know just how much of a mission hobbies and said activities can be- scheduling and planning for one child is a lot nonetheless three. Other demanding factors fall into place such as financials and energy.

Activities Kwan Took Part In

She Must Focus

The doting and enthusiastic parents needed Michelle to focus on one specific activity and as she says in her #Iam Michelle Kwan Story video with CAPE, her parents asked her, “What is it that you love the most?”

She Must Focus

Encouraging Parents

She elaborated on how figure skating stood out to her because of the encouragement she and her sister received from their parents when it came to athletics. Lucky enough for her, she was given an option on what choice to make.

Encouraging Parents

Her Love For Figure Skating

Michelle decided her focus was figure skating and she even remembers the day she became obsessed with figure skating as if it was just yesterday. She knew her life would be consumed with skating and nothing would get in her way.

Her Love For Figure Skating

An Olympic Figure Skater

In her interview with CAPE, she went on to say, “I watched the Olympics when I was 7 years old…the ‘88 Olympics. And I turn to my parents, ‘I know what I want to do. I want to be an Olympic Figure Skater.”

An Olympic Figure Skater

Dreams As A Kid Vs. The Reality Of Adulthood

The beginning years of pre-school and primary school always entail children expressing what they want to be when they get older. Many want to be president, policemen and some say famous. How many actually maintain this wish or never change their wish?

Dreams As A Kid Vs. The Reality Of Adulthood

Michelle Was Different

Well, we are not sure of the statistical answer to the question but people are wired to get older, to learn and experiment with what they like and do not like. Other individuals change their minds and find the harsh reality of adulthood to be a dream killer. Thus, it is very normal to age into something your 5-year old self would never have expected. Michelle for sure was unaware as she watched the 1988 Olympics that she would be in that same space a decade later. This was going to be a challenge, to say the least.

Michelle Was Different

The Kwan Parents Reaction

Michelle Kwan wanted more than anything to be in the big leagues, an Olympic figure-skater. She had set her eye on the prize. When telling her parents she said they reacted rather normally to her elaborate wish.

The Kwan Parents Reaction

Telling Her Straight

“They didn’t laugh, they didn’t do anything. But they’re like, if you want to go to the Olympics, it’s a lot of hard work,” Michelle exclaimed. They knew what they were getting themselves into. The family conquered a lot together before Michelle made it to the rink in the Winter Olympic Games in Japan.

Telling Her Straight

A Go-Getter With A Dream

The second this determined young lady entered the ice-rink at the young age of 7, she cleared her mind and felt overcome with inspiration when she declared, “I’m gonna make the Olympics!”

A Go-Getter With A Dream

An Ambitious Young Skater

Kwan was not only very determined but she was a go-getter riddled with ambition and passion, it ran through her being and she knew it would take more than that to shape herself into a professional athlete.

An Ambitious Young Skater

The Work Behind “Making It”

She had a solid foundation and familial structure but at such a young age it is incomprehensible to understand the work and meaning behind becoming an expert in anything, nevermind a competitive athlete.

The Work Behind “Making It”

“Ta-Da” It’s The Olympics

Kwan told CAPE, “I thought it was as easy as you signing a paper, an application, and ta-da you’re at the Olympic games.” Certainly not the case. She only later realized all that happened behind-the-scenes.

“Ta-Da” It’s The Olympics

All They Wanted Was For Her To Succeed

The Kwan parents were adamant in helping their child succeed and would support their child every step of the way with unconditional love. They were strong supporters and believers of their beloved Michelle. However, life is full of conflicts and often we cannot always give our children everything we want to give them.

All They Wanted Was For Her To Succeed

Expense Burden Of Figure Skating

The world we live in is full of such conflicts due to expenses and financial factors. Kwan relates to times where her parents struggled as she says, “When I was climbing the ranks in figure skating, there were many times when my parents looked at us saying, ‘Well we can’t afford new skates, and there might be a possibility that you have to quit skating’.”

Expense Burden Of Figure Skating

Providing For Their Children

Like all parents, Danny and Estella wished they could provide everything their kids wanted and more. After all, their main reasoning for immigrating to America was to enable their children with better futures.

Providing For Their Children

Dealing With Reality

The truth behind their reality and that of many immigrants was that they could not often meet the financials they needed to remain stable. Sports in general are very expensive, but skating is even more costly, especially at the level Michelle was competing.

Dealing With Reality

The Thought Of Giving Up

Kwan of course, found it extremely difficult to internalize and understand that she might have to give up her dream of competing. This can be stressful and anxiety-provoking for any youngster. These things definitely molded her into being humble, graceful and lovely natured human she is today.

The Thought Of Giving Up

A Grueling Schedule

With absolute dedication to her dream, she was on the ice every minute of her spare time and as often as she could be. The Kwan siblings would wake up as early as four in the morning to get straight to the rink and squeeze in a practice before school. After school, it was straight back to the rink for additional practice.

A Grueling Schedule

Financial Issues Amongst The Family

However, each aspect of the sport puts a dent in one’s bank account- with rental fees for the rink, lesson fees, supplies, and outfits, Danny and Estella sacrificed as much as they could for their child’s love of the sport.

Financial Issues Amongst The Family

Working Extra Jobs

The Kwan’s did it with absolute happiness and love for seeing their child succeed as well as enjoy doing what they love. These dedicated parents would do anything from hand-sewing costumes to working an extra shift or job to meet the necessary requirements.

Working Extra Jobs

12-Year Old Kwan

Michelle Kwan had already begun being noticed and building her reputation within the figure skating world, after 3-4 years of hard work and practice. “At 12 years old, I was at the senior level, almost making it, and you know, so close to having my dreams come true,” Kwan said reminiscing over her preteen anxieties.

12-Year Old Kwan

Dealing With All Of The Burdens

Kwan continued, “I ended up 2nd place in the ’94 championships, but at 12-years old, I almost quit.” She was excelling at competitions but she felt the burden of her family’s financial demands immensely. Besides feeling the financial pressure Kwan had other issues riding on her shoulders during her time as a pro athlete.

Dealing With All Of The Burdens

Building Momentum

The momentum started building in 1992 as Kwan had journeyed her way to World  Junior Figure Skating Champion in 1994- her first title in this regard. Just a year later she returned to the United States Championship for figure skating, where she came in second place.

Building Momentum

Growing Her Stamina To Reach The Peak

Kwan was working harder each year and striving for better results yet there was always something that was coming between her and her goal, something she could not control nor necessarily change. How would she work past it?

Growing Her Stamina To Reach The Peak

Changing Things Up

Michelle Kwan was strengthening and changing her skating style as she matured through the years, however, her physical body was too developing and maturing. It was normal, of course, but it was something she had to take into account.

Changing Things Up

Public Scrutiny During Puberty

Prepubescent Kwan was fully in the spotlight during this time and later discussed with Cosmopolitan the struggle of this, “You’re on [magazine] covers, being interviewed, and just trying to be the best — and there’s a lot of pressure that comes with that.”

Public Scrutiny During Puberty

Handling The Spotlight Whilst Growing Up

Each and every individual knows just how tough puberty can be, pimples, growth spurts, and other awkward developments. Now, imagine being under the public eye whilst this is all happening. Kwan had to deal with these puberty problems as well as her family’s financial issues and on top of it all, overcome self-image problems and work towards fitting into her new body.

Handling The Spotlight Whilst Growing Up

Eyes On The Prize

She had to maintain her rankings and physical excellence all whilst undergoing growing pains and hormonal changes. These factors affected her at times whether it may have been during jumps, breaking in new ice skates or simple mistakes- she had her eye set on being an Olympic competitor.

Eyes On The Prize

Winning The Public Over

Kwan was qualifying and competing around the world, with her mother by her side, from the age of 12. Michelle Kwan remained humble as she won not only medals and titles but hearts of individuals around the world, she grew up publicly and with the world’s eye on her.

Winning The Public Over

Olympic Preparation

When it was time for the  1998 Olympics, Kwan was ready for the games and felt secure that she would go all the way to first place. She wanted that gold medal so badly however, there was something still playing on Kwan’s mind.

Olympic Preparation

Teenage Years Are Simply Tough

The transition period between pre-teen to teenager and teenager to young adult are a battle and crucial periods in any humans life. Emotions run high and hormones are only making everything worse. Your body is drastically developing, you’re confused and the challenges and methods of life are becoming a reality.

Feeling Isolated

Friends are a huge part of growing up and function as a major part of this time period- you share a mutual connection with these people. The opposite was happening with Kwan, as her successes rose her isolation did too and she felt somewhat alone in regards to friends.

Feeling Isolated

Dealing With Jealousy

She told Cosmopolitan, “I was improving in the sport at age 10, 11 when I was getting my triple jumps — and it was suddenly very isolating,” Further adding, “I was doing really well in competitions and it felt strange because people that were my friends became almost jealous.”

Dealing With Jealousy

Mama Kwan Saves The Day

If she didn’t have her friends in this tough time who else could she have relied on for support? Mama Kwan to the rescue! Her mom was always by her side- no matter in what field. Whether it was making her costumes, sharing advice, motivating and encouraging her or just providing a shoulder to cry on, her mom was there every step and every flight of the way.

Mama Kwan Saves The Day

Michelle Kwan And Tara Lipinski Go Head To Head

Kwan was feeling isolated from her friends and social life just as the ’98 Olympics were coming around, the press started to make things even worse. They created a press rivalry against Tara Lipinski, who was a fellow figure skating champion in America at the time.

Michelle Kwan And Tara Lipinski Go Head To Head

The Media Played Up The Rivalry

This dramatic press coverage was truly out of Kwan’s focus and all she wanted was to end the media drama and feud as she was simply focused on her own skills. Michelle said,  “The media seemed to play up a rivalry that existed and did not exist.”

The Media Played Up The Rivalry

Competiting With Herself

She continued, “…I can tell you that my biggest competition was myself…There is only so much energy that one has. My focus was on how do I get the best out of myself,” she told Forbes in 2017.

Competiting With Herself

Qualifying

Michelle managed to push through all obstacles; the anxiety of financial burdens, puberty under the public eye, pushing past media dramas and fake feuds as well as the isolation of her social life. She managed to qualify for the Olympics- it was all worth it.

Qualifying

Family Coming Together To Be The Best

The Kwan family as a whole was a driven bunch and they were prepared to go to any lengths in order for Michelle to achieve her dream and reach her full potential. The result and proceedings of the games made a huge impact on sports history.

Family Coming Together To Be The Best

Round 1

Michelle Kwan truly gave her all to her performance as her heart and soul were poured into every move on the rink. She skated with elegance, grace, passion, and beauty. She landed all her tricks just as she was supposed to, to the best of her ability and twirled with excellence.

Round 1

Overcome With Emotions

Throughout she was applauded and cheered, as she stepped off the rink she was overcome with emotion as tears flew expressing her relief. She was remarkable and felt so extremely proud of herself and all her accomplishments.

Overcome With Emotions

Falling Short

Michelle made all those around her including her parents extremely proud of her performance. She worked so hard and persevered and finally her dreams came true! But, how come Kwan didn’t get the gold medal?

Falling Short

Kwan Places 2nd Why?

Although, Michelle Kwan had defeated Tara Lapinski twice at the Skate America competitions, at the actual games Tara beat Kwan and placed first. Tara Lipinski had won the gold medal at the ’98 Olympics in Japan, why?

Kwan Places 2nd Why?

The Judges Held Her Fate

It all came down to the small details and the judges’ impressions, they were impressed with Lipinski’s triple loop-triple loop combination. Nonetheless, Kwan was proud of herself, her performance and she was satisfied in knowing she had done all she could on that rink.

The Judges Held Her Fate

Clinching Gold

Michelle Kwan was leaving with even more motivation to return after 4 years even better and get that gold! She knew that with more hours on the ice and with more practice, she could clinch the gold.

Clinching Gold

Continuing To Work Hard

Michelle Kwan’s reputation exceeded her as she was known for bringing down an arena and judges in tears as well as her thirst for gold. She had her eyes set on getting the gold at the next Olympics. Michelle continued to put in the work and of course, still had the drive.

Continuing To Work Hard

Vera Wang Works Her Magic

however, some things did change- she had gone from wearing second-hand costumes or those made by her mom to designer ones. She was working with designers such as Vera Wang- who was creating her future competition looks.

Vera Wang Works Her Magic

More Determined Than Ever

The next Olympics was coming around and the pressure was on, but so was her determination. Michelle was more motivated than ever to win the gold. Figure skating fans were eager and ready to see Kwan at the Salt Lake City Games in 2002.

More Determined Than Ever

It’s Her Time

She had reigned in two Olympic medals, four world championship titles and six U.S championship titles. Kwan was aware that this was going to be her time to obtain her goal and build her reputation.

It’s Her Time

Going For Gold

She wore a magnificent gold leotard and her song choice was cleverly chosen as, “Fields of Gold.” Now in her early 20’s, it was just as evident as before, if not more, that she was aiming for gold and she was going to win it.

Going For Gold

A Seasoned Professional

Michelle Kwan was experienced in her field, a champion and now a young adult. It was with four additional years of practice, mastering each skill and maturity that got her through this competition and the others. How would she do?

A Seasoned Professional

In Tears, Once Again

This time around Kwan finished her routine in tears again, however, not because she was relieved and joyous but because she had made a mistake in one of her tricks- the frustration and disappointment overcame her.

In Tears, Once Again

Devastating Loss

After skating off the ice, Michelle realized that the gold was not hers. One small mistake made a huge difference in her score, leaving her ranked third place as she received a bronze medal in the 2002 Olympics.

Devastating Loss

An Uneasy Feeling

Of course, Kwan was proud of her achievement and dedication as she knew she had worked as hard as she could have. She had won several medals, titles, and awards but there was a bittersweet feeling about her Olympic performance and placement.

An Uneasy Feeling

She Still Longed For Gold

We can certainly relate to this, after all, it was her dream to win a gold medal ever since she first chose skating as her sport at the mere age of seven. Some athletes may find themselves indecisive at the end of the season however, Kwan was adamant this was not to be the end for her- she still wanted to practice and compete.

She Still Longed For Gold

Unfortunate Injuries

The years that passed between 2002 and 2006, Kwan continued as always in her ways. The only difference was that she suffered a hip injury and had to undergo surgery which resulted in a small break from skating.

Unfortunate Injuries

The Path Ahead

As passionate as ever Kwan decided it was time to focus on another route in her life and devoted some attention to school. She withdrew from the 2006 Olympic qualifications and enrolled at the University of Denver, Colorado.

The Path Ahead

Leaving Her Mark On The Sport

Kwan had impacted and inspired many individuals leaving her mark as an Asian-American athlete. Kwan also devotes time to volunteering and involvement in the community- her profession being government and society this seems rather fitting.

Leaving Her Mark On The Sport

A New Life

Michelle Kwan had managed to develop an entirely different and new life for herself over the next two decades. With her following and fandom craving her presence at competitions, she was focused on studying instead. As years went on people dwelled and truly felt compelled to know why Kwan decided to step back from her skating career.

A New Life

The Truth Behind Her Step Back

The answer behind the curiosity is found in all of Kwan’s experiences that led her to the champion she is at this present time. Her love for the sport was evident but the sport came with other stressors and obstacles that did not align with the way she wanted to carry on and live the rest of her life.

The Truth Behind Her Step Back

Out Of The Public Eye

Besides being in the spotlight when competing, Kwan tried to keep her doings private and out of the public eye. She had faced immense amounts of pressure during her maturing years and from the media building up fake feuds between her and her competitors.

Out Of The Public Eye

What She Loves

Michelle Kwan managed to do what she loves without the spotlight and media attention. She’s happy to be able to express herself however she wants and to finally feel free in her own skin.

What She Loves

A Role Model In The Community

Due to her understanding of the pressure and burdens of being a female athlete, specifically in times of puberty, change and maturation- Kwan wanted to assist in whatever way she could. She told Cosmopolitan, “Whether it’s competition, setbacks, fear of failing, or body image. I hope that [younger skaters] know I’m here for them to give honest advice.”

A Role Model In The Community

Helping Young Athletes

As Kwan aimed to help either their careers as sportswomen or later life choices. She also told Forbes, “My generation – the Foudy/Mendoza generation – is trying to make an impact on the next generation of young women athletes… who perhaps are transitioning out of sports and into leadership roles, whether in the private sector or the public sector.

Helping Young Athletes

Giving And Receiving Inspiration

Figure skating will forever live inside Michelle Kwan as something she so dearly loved. She expressed in her #IAm Michelle Kwan Story video that she felt very close to the cause and overcome when watching the 2018 Olympics. She dwelled in her aspiration as she said, “It was so inspiring watching Nathan Chen, Chloe Kim… just really dominating their sport, and excelling, and it’s incredible to see.” Additionally, she spoke of her support and fandom for these athletes, “I know it will inspire the next generation of Asian-Americans wanting to be at the Olympic games. I think when you see pioneers and their sport, you see them, and you’re like ‘I didn’t think it was possible until I saw this role model, kind of break the glass and pave the way.’” Unsure of whether Kwan realizes her brevity and hold as a role-model we acknowledge her accomplishments as well as show appreciation for the role she has played in changing sports for Asian-Americans.

Giving And Receiving Inspiration

 

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