Kwan Out With Injury

Times Staff Writer

Michelle Kwan withdrew from the U.S. figure skating championships because of a pulled groin muscle, her second major injury this season, and will petition U.S. Figure Skating’s International Committee for a spot on the Turin Olympic team and a chance to win the gold medal that has twice eluded her.

The nine-time U.S. champion and five-time world champion, a Manhattan Beach resident, said Wednesday she pulled the muscle Dec. 17 and was told not to jump or spin before Jan. 13. She strained a hip ligament earlier this season but said that was unrelated to her current injury.

The committee will convene in St. Louis on Jan. 14, after the women’s competition at the U.S. championships, to choose the three-woman Turin team and an alternate.


“My hip is feeling well and I feel capable of being 100% for the Olympics. That’s why I put this petition in, because I feel I have a chance to win,” said Kwan, who lost her spot on the 1994 Olympic team when Nancy Kerrigan was given a medical bye as compensation for having been struck on the knee before the U.S. championships.

“I know that if they accept my petition, they’d come out and watch me. If they say, ‘You’re ready,’ and I don’t feel 100%, I will pull myself out of the team.”

U.S. Figure Skating faces a Jan. 16 deadline to submit nominees to the U.S. Olympic Committee, which must send documentation to Turin organizers by Jan. 30. The women’s competition at Turin begins Feb. 21, with the short program, and concludes Feb. 23.

“It is sort of ironic, because the last person bumped off the team was me,” Kwan said during a conference call with reporters. “But they do have a rule for special circumstances. I want to petition because I feel I will be 100% by the time the Olympics roll around.”

Her physician, Leisure Yu of Loma Linda, said in a statement that her injury had “greatly improved” when he examined her Friday.

“There have been no complications, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t fully heal,” he said. “ ... I’m confident that she will be in top physical condition for the Olympics.”

Kerrigan won the silver medal at Lillehammer, France, after successfully petitioning onto the U.S. team. Todd Eldredge, who got a medical bye in 1992 because of a back injury, finished 10th at the Games in Albertville, Canada.

The international committee is made up of 36 coaches, athletes, judges and skating officials, but any member who has a conflict of interest is obligated to recuse himself or herself. Among the members are Peter Oppegard, a coach who is married to Kwan’s sister, Karen, and Ken Congemi, who coaches one of Kwan’s rivals, Bebe Liang of Granada Hills. Congemi said Wednesday he will recuse himself.

“Nothing changes for what I have to do with Bebe,” he said. “It makes everything more exciting, but I don’t want to comment beyond that.”

U.S. Figure Skating’s selection criteria specify that in evaluating injury petitions, the committee must weigh skaters’ placement at the 2005 Grand Prix Final, the 2005 World Championships, 2005 Four Continents event, the 2005 Junior Grand Prix Final and the 2005 World Junior Championships. Kwan competed in only the 2005 World Championships and finished fourth in her first experience with the sport’s new scoring system.

Kwan has not missed the U.S. championships since her senior-level debut in 1993, when she finished sixth at age 12. She has won a medal at a record 12 straight U.S. championships and last year equaled the record of nine U.S. titles set by Maribel Vinson Owen in the 1920s and ‘30s.

She competed in only one event this season, last month at Boston, and was voted the winner by fans. Sasha Cohen of Corona del Mar, a two-time world silver medalist, won the votes of the on-scene judging panel.

Cohen, 21, is a four-time runner-up at the U.S. championships and was expected to challenge Kwan’s streak of eight consecutive titles. Cohen had a back injury this season but competed in one Grand Prix event, finishing second.

Also expected to vie for Olympic berths are Liang; Alissa Cizsny of Bowling Green, Ohio, who has had a breakout year and finished sixth in her debut at the Grand Prix Final; Emily Hughes, sister of 2002 gold medalist Sarah Hughes, and 2005 third-place finisher Kimmie Meissner, who has faltered this season after landing a triple axel at last year’s U.S. competition.

The committee’s choice will be made by simple majority.

Lindsay DeWall, a spokeswoman for U.S. Figure Skating, said the committee has “latitude within reason” in making its decision. That’s vague enough to allow Kwan to be placed on the team conditionally, depending on her progress by a certain date. It might also allow the committee to take into account Kwan’s stellar career and enormous popularity.

Frank Carroll, who coached Kwan for nearly a decade, said U.S. Figure Skating should give some weight to her accomplishments but not base its decision on her resume alone. “If they name her to the team it wouldn’t be done carelessly,” he said. “They would have safeguards and make sure she’s monitored. They care about Michelle. She’s like a rock star and much, much loved....

“I wish her the best. I will always love her. But to forecast it is impossible. I think everybody will do the fair thing.”

Kwan, 25, won a silver medal at the 1998 Nagano Games and won bronze behind compatriot Sarah Hughes and Russia’s Irina Slutskaya at Salt Lake City in 2002. Her sustained excellence and exemplary off-ice conduct have made her attractive to advertisers, and she has endorsement deals with East West Bank and Coca-Cola.

“By Saturday night the 14th, the committee should have all the information they need to select the best possible Olympic team,” said David Raith, executive director of U.S. Figure Skating.

He described Kwan as, “a tremendous champion throughout the years.... She’s been a great ambassador to the sport.”

Darryl Seibel, chief communications officer for the USOC, said his organization had reviewed and was satisfied with U.S. Figure Skating’s selection criteria.

“The selection procedures are reviewed, approved and made public by the national governing body well in advance of the qualification process beginning,” he said. “I would expect that most, if not all, of the athletes and coaches participating in the national championships are aware of and understand these procedures.”

Kwan’s agent, Shep Goldberg, said the petition will be a formal letter “with whatever documentation that would help them accept her petition,” such as medical reports.