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Michelle Kwan: America's Ice Princess
mid the clatter of dishes, the incessant chatter of hungry patrons and an
annoying techno-jingle from a nearby video game, Danny Kwan sits in his
family-owned restaurant in Torrance, California, and patiently answers
questions about his daughter Michelle. Kwan appears fatigued. He's just
returned from Michelle's training facility in Lake Arrowhead, about a
two-hour drive from the Golden Pheasant restaurant. The Winter Olympics
are still three weeks away, but the stress of the ongoing controversy
involving Tonya Harding, Nancy Kerrigan and, indirectly, Michelle seems to
have sapped Kwan's energy.
A middle-aged woman catches Kwan's attention and shakes her fist. "We're
rooting for her," the woman nearly shouts in an effort to be heard above the
din. Kwan thanks her with a nod and a quick wave as she departs. The
decision of the U.S. Olympic Committee to let the beleaguered Harding
compete at Lillehammer, Norway, is not one of Kwan's favorite subjects. "We
never pay attention to it," he says. "Michelle just wants to be a good skater.
That's the bottom line. There's a lot of competition after the Olympics
At the age of 13, Michelle Kwan may be the brightest young star on the U.S.
figure skating scene. Her potential is tremendous. At the national
championships in Detroit earlier in the year, she finished second to Harding
and would have received a berth on the U.S. Olympic team except for the fact
that U.S. Figure Skating Association used its prerogative to place Kerrigan on
the same team after she was literally knocked out of the competition by an
When her body matures adding size and strength to her tiny frame, Michelle
could dominate the sport for several years. In fact, she may already be the
top U.S. woman skater with Harding and Kerrigan expected to retire after this
year's World Championships, scheduled for March 22-27. Their departures
leave a yawning vacancy in the woman's division, and Kwan appears to have
the talent to fill that void. When the 1998 Winter Games are held in Nagano,
Japan, Michelle could very well be the favorite to capture the gold medal.
Michelle is the youngest of Kwan's three children. She began competing in
figure skating when she was 6. Her older sister Karen, who's 15, also is a
competitive skater and helps Michelle in her training. Kwan says there's no
sibling rivalry. "Karen's happy for Michelle," he says, "and she helps her a
Danny Kwan was born in Canton, China, and resided in Hong Kong before
immigrating to the U.S. in 1971. A year later his family started the Golden
Pheasant restaurant, which is managed by his wife Estella. Kwan also helps
out at the restaurant when he can, but his main job is as a systems analyst
for Pacific Bell. The Golden Pheasant is a second home to the Kwans. Danny
says Michelle rarely would eat her dinner anywhere else when she was
younger. He recently moved his family to Torrance from the more exclusive
community of Rancho Palos Verdes. He isn't embarrassed about admitting
that the relocation helped relieve the strain on his finances. He estimates
that it costs him $50,000-$60,000 per year to finance his daughters' training.
"That's not a sacrifice," he says firmly. "Skating is like a gift. I give it to
them, and I get happiness out of it."
Kwan,45, says he urged all of his offspring to pursue sports. "I love sports,"
he says. "I played soccer when I was young." In addition to Michelle and
Karen, he and his wife Estella have an 18-year-old son, Ronald who played
high school football and also surfs and dives. These outlets, Kwan says kept
his children out of trouble. "All of my kids have a lot of energy," he says with
a rueful laugh.
Michelle practices two to three hours per day at a private facility in Lake
Arrowhead and attends a local junior high school. Kwan says she could
probably tolerate four hours on the ice, but he doesn't want to put too much
of a strain on her developing body. "I don't want to hurt her in the long run.
She's never been injured," he says, jokingly rapping the table with his
knuckles for good luck.
While she's pretty typical of any 13-year-old off the ice, Kwan says his
daughter has a special maturity when she's competing. Only once has he seen
her cry after a competition. That was when she had finished ninth in the
1991 Junior National Championships. "She was upset," he says simply.
Unlike many parents of championship figure skaters, Kwan says he keeps a
low profile when it comes to Michelle's training. "We let the coach handle the
whole thing," he says. During competitions he sits in the stands and stays out
of the way. Watching his youngest child gliding, jumping and sometimes
falling isn't as nerve-racking as it seems. "I enjoy it," he says. Even
Michelle's spills don't bother him too much. "You have to learn to deal with
it. This is a beautiful sport." [End]
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"That's not a sacrifice. Skating is like a gift. I give it to them, and I get happiness out of it."
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