Olympic Moments: Michelle Kwan

Where does life take you after you’ve experienced Olympic glory? These past Olympians look back—and ahead.

By: Mary Yarrison

A veteran by the time of the 2002 Salt Lake Games, Kwan won bronze. Photograph by Neal Preston/Corbis.

Michelle Kwan
Figure skating
Olympian in 1998, 2002, 2006
Silver medal, 1998; bronze medal, 2002

Fans sometimes stop Michelle Kwan on the street to say how proud they are of her five ice-skating world championships. Others say how sad they were during the two Olympics when she didn’t win gold.

“Some cry,” she says. Presumably, these people rode the emotional roller coaster of her victories and disappointments alongside her.

At the 1998 Games in Nagano, Kwan skated well. She thought she might have won. But fellow American Tara Lipinski captured the gold and Kwan settled for silver.

All she remembers thinking as she stood on the podium is “Wait—did that just happen?” She decided to see the experience as educational: “This is just the beginning of my career,” she thought.

And it was. She qualified for two more Olympic teams but fell in her 2002 free-skate and ended up third. She withdrew from the 2006 team due to injury. People assume she’s heartbroken. She’s not. “It would’ve been really great” to win gold, she says, “but I don’t feel incomplete.”

In 2006, the State Department appointed her the first envoy for US public diplomacy, a role that requires her to talk to kids abroad about her story and values, in the process bringing attention to programs needing support. She finished a master’s in international relations at Tufts in 2011 and has been in Washington since last July, working with the State Department, the President’s Council on Fitness, Sports & Nutrition, and Special Olympics.

“I hope to keep learning and keep challenging myself,” she says, “and not be afraid.”

Read more Olympic Moments.