She’s Only Just Begun : There’s Never a Dull Moment for Skater Michelle Kwan, Who Has Given Up a Typical Lifestyle in Hopes of Someday Competing in the Olympics


Dan Kwan’s eyes were red and heavy as he greeted his wife Wednesday at the family’s Chinese restaurant in Torrance.

His fatigue was nothing out of the ordinary. Kwan has been exhausted since November, 1991, when his daughter, Michelle, received a figure skating scholarship to the Ice Castle International Training Center at Lake Arrowhead.

Michelle, now 12, left Peninsula Intermediate School and her home in Torrance, moving to a small cottage near the training center with her father and sister, Karen, 14, also a skating scholarship recipient.


Michelle has benefited from the personal coaching. She won a competition at St. Ulrich, Italy, in April, her first international event, and placed sixth at the United States national championships in January in Phoenix, where she was the youngest of 20 competitors in the senior ladies event.

Dan Kwan, 44, is thrilled by Michelle’s success, but the 1 hour 45 minute daily commute to his job as a field supervisor for Pacific Bell in Gardena has been tough.

“I’m mentally tired,” he said.

Michelle’s mother, Estella, 42, lives in Torrance, along with Michelle’s brother Ron, 17. Estella runs the restaurant during the week and drives to Lake Arrowhead on the weekends.

“Our family has gotten used to it,” Estella said. “But it’s a sacrifice.”

Both parents say they are willing to deal with inconveniences because they want to help Michelle fulfill her dream of competing for the United States in the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway.

Also, Dan said, “We want her to learn a discipline.”

He believes Michelle’s daily schedule will help her reach those goals: 6:45 a.m.--breakfast; 7:45--skating lesson; 9:30--homework; 12:20 p.m.--lunch; 2--skating lesson; 3:15--nap; 4:30--skating lesson; 5:20--dinner; 6:30--weightlifting and cardiovascular workout; 8--bedtime.

“I don’t think she’ll get burned out,” Dan said.

Although Michelle hopes to compete in the 1994 Olympics, something might stand in her way.

“The problem is she’ll be 13 and the International Olympic Committee’s rule is you have to be 15 to compete,” said her coach, Frank Carroll. “There have been exceptions made in the past. If she did qualify for the team I think the (U.S. Olympic Committee) would have enough clout to let them make a dispensation.”


Carroll, 54, has been Michelle’s coach since she arrived at the training center. Other figure skaters who have passed through Carroll’s tutelage include Linda Fratianne, a two-time world champion and 1980 Olympic silver medalist; Christopher Bowman, a world champion and Olympian, and Tiffany Chin, a 14-year-old world junior champion.

Michelle, a first-generation American, joins Chin and Kristi Yamaguchi as Asian-Americans who are world-class skaters. Yamaguchi was the gold medalist at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville.

Carroll, though, sees the most similarities between Fratianne and Kwan.

“Both are capable of doing very difficult things,” Carroll said. “But both needed grooming at performing, at being more outgoing, more of an extrovert. Michelle, I thought, did a great deal of improving with this side of performing. Two years ago she had no performance ability or showmanship.”

In March, Michelle, a 5-foot-2, 85-pound seventh-grader, stopped attending her school at Lake Arrowhead. Instead, every Wednesday, a teacher brings her assignments and collects the previous week’s finished homework.

“I needed more lessons from my coach, so I decided to do independent studies,” said Michelle, who had a 3.5 grade-point average last semester at Mary Putnam Henck School.

Michelle started skating when she was 5 at a rink in Rancho Palos Verdes.

“My brother did hockey and figure skating and my sister did figure skating, so why not do it?” she said.


When she was 8 she placed third in her first competition. This year, she won the Southwest Pacific Senior Ladies Championship and the Pacific Coast Senior Ladies Championship. Her accomplishments were recognized in Sports Illustrated’s “Faces in the Crowd” section in the Feb. 22 edition.

Dan, who is from the Canton region of China, and Estella, from Hong Kong, realize their daughter no longer has a normal childhood. They say there was never any pressure for her to accept the scholarship.

“This is strictly up to her,” said Dan, who came to the United States with Estella in 1975. “It’s something she likes.”

In July, Michelle will compete in the Olympic Sports Festival in Dallas. She’ll return to Dallas in October to represent the United States in Skate America, a premier international competition. Michelle will be one of two Americans in the event.

Carroll is confident about Michelle’s chances.

“Right now she shows the potential of being world champion,” he said. “She’s the youngest senior skater in the U.S. ever and she’s skating better than any of them.”

Michelle said being the youngest competitor made her nervous before the nationals in January, but she is getting used to it and was calm during last month’s competition in Italy. It helps, she said, to have a support group back in Rancho Palos Verdes: her friends.


“I still get letters from them and I write back and tell them how it’s going,” she said.

Her limited free time is spent either with other skaters at a dormitory or collecting pins and stickers.

And she often thinks about her short career on the ice.

“I don’t believe it’s been seven years already,” she said. “It’s gone by so fast.”