Wednesday, April 1, 2009
The news reports started leaking during last week's world championships. Michelle Kwan the greatest skater of her generation, wasn't ruling out a comeback. The story ran in USA Today. The New York Times printed it. Even my old haunt, SI.com, ran an AP story suggesting that Kwan might decide to compete in 2010. Michelle Kwan at Vancouver? Who knows? SI.com's subhead ran.
....They should have called me. I know. It ain't happening. I promise you all this talk about Michelle Kwan's "comeback" is nonsense being floated by Kwan on instructions from her agent, Shep Goldberg, to increase traffic on her website, position Kwan for a television commentating future, and rejuvenate her endorsement career. Kwan is 28 and isn't even performing with a skating tour. She couldn't do a triple-triple combination in her prime, never mind now. She could not possibly win if she competed in Vancouver. She would not medal. And in all likelihood, she would not even qualify for one of the two spots the weak U.S. women will get in 2010. Why would she risk her stellar reputation for such potential embarrassment? She wouldn't. So, please, let's stop reporting nonsense. Kwan's competitive career is over.
....Just for fun, take a look at the short program of Michelle Kwan from the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, which was one of her finest performances. (Tara Lipinski won the gold by beating Kwan in the long program.) Kwan was 17 years old at the time, a few months shy of her 18th birthday, in her skating prime. She could not possibly skate like this today.
....It is a wonderfully lyrical performance, but the most difficult jump technically was the triple lutz, double toe combination. The height of her jumps was average. The spins and positions were nothing special--Kwan was never a terribly flexible skater--and the speed was, well, restrained. But it was beautiful, unquestionably, especially her spiral.
Now take a look at 18-year-old Yu-Na Kim's short program from last week's world championships:
This is as good as it gets: a brilliant triple flip-triple toe-loop; a high, sure triple lutz, a breathtaking spiral, and dramatic, flexible spins. Above all, the speed of the program, throughout, was maintained at a high level. It was, I think, the best women's short program I've seen since I began covering the sport in 1983.
Kim is about the same age now as Kwan was when she skated that short in the 1998 Games. The Michelle Kwan of 1998 would have been a good match against Kim, but based on these videos, it's clear she would not have beaten the Korean even then. The technical superiority of Kim is quite apparent, and the artistry is comparable. The Kwan of 2010, however, would be 12 years older than she was in Nagano, and even slower and less flexible. Compared to the lithe, butterfly-like Kim, Kwan would look like George Foreman did at the end of his career. Kwan may be old in figure skating years, but she's not a punch-drunk numbskull. The only place you'll see her in Vancouver is in the television booth.
Posted by E.M. Swift at 9:44 AM