Story and photos by Scott Mammoser, Team FSO writer
Michelle Kwan’s road to the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Hall of Fame came to a conclusion on Friday in Colorado Springs, nearly three decades after she first caught America’s attention.
“It’s a little surreal,” she said on the red carpet. “I can’t put into words what this means. Thinking about where this journey all started, wishing to go to the Olympics one day, and now being inducted into the Hall of Fame, it’s surreal.”
Kwan, who turns 42 on July 7, was a 13-year-old alternate on the 1994 Olympic team and traveled to Lillehammer. She won the silver medal at the 1998 Nagano Olympics, then bronze in Salt Lake City in 2002. She was selected to the 2006 Olympic team, but after suffering an injury during practice in Torino, she surrendered her position to alternate Emily Hughes. In total. she collected nine U.S. championships and five World championships during the late 1990s and early 2000s., making her the most decorated figure skater in U.S. history.
On stage for her induction, Kwan spoke of the special commitment from her parents, who emigrated from Hong Kong and invested countless sacrifices in the skating for her and her sister, Karen, who was also in attendance.
“I remember being five years old and could barely lace up my skates,” she said, “going on the ice and not even knowing how to skate, and just having the most fun. Of course, there is a lot of work. My parents, I was seven years old when I made this declaration that I wanted to go to the Olympics. They were like, ‘It’s a lot of hard work.’ They didn’t laugh.”
Kwan is the first figure skater to enter the U.S. Olympic Paralympic Committee’s Hall of Fame since 2008, when Brian Boitano, Carol Heiss and coach Carlo Fassi were inducted. Dorothy Hamill, Scott Hamilton, Tenley Albright, Dick Button, Kristi Yamaguchi and Peggy Fleming are the others on the very exclusive list. No pairs or ice dance teams have been elected yet. Hamill, who won the gold medal at Innsbruck in 1976, was on stage for most of the night presenting the Hall of Fame trophies to honorees as they took the podium.
Other inductees of the 14-member class were swimmers Michael Phelps and Natalie Coughlin, soccer player Mia Hamm, and Lindsey Vonn, who won 82 alpine skiing World Cup races and the gold medal in the downhill at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.
“I know Michelle, she’s such an amazing person, and she has done amazing things,” Vonn said before the ceremony. “She is an incredibly smart person and inspiring in so many ways. I remember watching her because she was successful before I was, and I always loved watching amazing female athletes because it inspires me to do more.”
Kwan has had a busy year. In January, she was formally nominated to be the U.S. ambassador to Belize. Her nomination is currently pending before the U.S. Senate. Also in January, Kwan gave birth to her daughter, Kalista Belle. Being a mom gives her another insight into her platform.
“I remember when a young mom came up to me when I was 13 years old,” Kwan remembered. “‘I have a daughter who wants to be just like you, she skates around the living room.’ At the time, I didn’t understand, but then I thought, it’s a really big responsibility to be a role model for young kids. I understand the responsibility.”
Kwan was also inducted into both the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame and World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2012.