Sunday, February 12, 2006

Torn over Kwan

Michelle Kwan withdrew from the Olympics today because of a groin injury--allegedly a different one from the injury that prevented her participation in the US Nationals that serve as the Olympic trials for figure skating.
When Kwan received a bye from the powers-that-be I was almost entirely supportive of this move despite my sympathy for Emily Hughes, the third-place finisher at Nationals whom Kwan replaced essentially. I was a little suspect of the possible economic motivations for the bye (i.e. Kwan's appearance in Coca-Cola Olympic-themed commercials and Visa too I believe) but she is the reason the US could send 3 skaters this year and she is an icon--one who's ability has not, in my opinion, waned.
But her withdrawal makes me a little uneasy. This was it for Kwan--her last chance. The competition is still a few days away. Kwan always seemed like the type to push through adversity. This situation reminds me of the one a few weeks ago in Australia when Justine Henin-Hardenne retired from the Australian Open final with a stomach ailment giving Amelie Mauresmo her first Grand Slam victory. People--myself included--questioned Henin-Hardenne's commitment especially in light of Mauresmo's assertion that she was "prepared to die out there" in her attempt to win her first Grand Slam. I don't approve of the "no pain, no gain" theory of training and believe we should all defer to an athlete's own judgment about an injury. But I was honestly surprised that Kwan did not have a similar mentality as Mauresmo's. There is nothing left, as far as I can see, for Kwan to save herself for.
Of course I couldn't possibly know the severity of the injury and in the end I have to applaud Kwan for withdrawing in time for alternate Emily Hughes to make the trip over (assuming she can get out of snow-covered NY) and compete.


Amateur said...

Since I have stated that I won't talk about this issue any more on my blog, I'll have to talk about it here ;-)

she is the reason the US could send 3 skaters this year ...

There's a problem with this argument, though. Let's say the US only had two berths this year. Do you honestly think that (a) Kwan would not have asked for the waiver, and (b) the USFSA would not have granted it? Of course she would have, and of course they would have. So I don't think the logic really holds water.

... and she is an icon--one who's ability has not, in my opinion, waned

Not in her opinion either! But she was wrong, wasn't she? Her lack of competition and training, and her age (relative of course!) have caught up to her.

Kwan is more or less blameless in this whole affair, really. She thinks she's one of the best three skaters in the US, and she asked for a spot on that basis. I probably would have done the same thing. When she realized that a healthy Emily Hughes was actually a better skater than an injured Michelle Kwan, she withdrew. That's actually pretty noble.

The USFSA has to take responsibility for the whole fiasco. Right from the beginning, this was unfair to Emily Hughes. She had to compete against an impossibly high standard (five-time-world-champion-Michelle-Kwan, the concept) instead of an actual skater (aging-and-battered-Michelle-Kwan, the reality). She never had a chance.

Anonymous said...

I think Kwan's decision is entirely uncomporable to Henin-Hardenne's. The difference is that unlike grand slam tennis, figure skating is an individual sport but with some team aspect. The difference is that when Kwan withdrew, she didn't prevent the competition from continuing on with other athletes. When H-H withdrew, the competition came to an halt.

In this sense, olympic figure skating is like olympic swimming, another team/individual sport. Remember when Michael Phelps sat out of the relay to give his teammate a shot at the gold? No accused him being noncompetitive or wimpy. Granted, he wasn't injured, but what if he had said he was concerned that after all that swimming he didn't think he could count on himself to be at his best? I don't think we viewed his decision as any less noble if that, as well as altruism, had been a part of it.

Amateur has already said it: "When she realized that a healthy Emily Hughes was actually a better skater than an injured Michelle Kwan, she withdrew. That's actually pretty noble." Pretty noble indeed. She could have stayed in the competition and skated a personal worst. Or should could make way for a teammate to skate her personal best. Sounds like Phelps-style altruism to me.

Putting Kwan in the same category as Henin-Hardenne is an insult that Kwan most certainly does not deserve.

Now, to Michelle Kwan, wherever you are: for all you've done in skating you're gold in my book and nothing about the way your olympic quest ended will tarish that! Love, Erin

ken said...

Yikes, ebuz--how scathing. Is this because I stole the covers last night?
Perhaps my post was not as nuanced as it needed to be and actually did not convey the unformed ideas that have been percolating at the back of my head for a few weeks about athletic intensity, "no pain, no gain" theories of training and competition, and the construction and conception of mental fortitude.
I certainly did not mean to suggest Kwan and JHH are similar beings. My actual comparison, weak as it was, was between Kwan and Mauresmo.
Also, since this story came out I have been thinking about how Kwan has been racialized in this very white sport and how this construction of her racial identity has affected press and fan perceptions of her. But those are thoughts for another post.
To amateur: I am not sure how I feel about my blog being the receptacle for the issues that aren't good enough for your blog. :)

Amateur said...

It's not that they're not good enough -- but I've really said enough on the subject already, I think.

Anyway, thanks for the chance to vent...