Monday, March 31, 2003

THERE'S SOMETHING ABOUT MICHELLE: The deal with Michelle Kwan, I think, is that she's the best at what she does. At the same time, she is completely beatable--her skates are physically conservative. But her performances are completely flawless. So you can beat her if you do something physically spectacular and do pretty well on the performance angle. But if you're going to beat her that way, there's a much greater chance you're going to screw up. So while Michelle gets beat by the Lipinskis and Hughes of the world in these flash-in-the-pan Magic Moments at the Olympics (where Michelle, of course, assists them with her own mistakes) she ends up being a far better skater than they because of her devotion to her sport. I mean, maybe she'd've retired years ago if she won a gold and gotten overwhelmed by it all, like Sara Hughes, who is probably retiring right now. But she didn't, and so she continued to develop into the dominant figure she is now. Figure skating needs more athletes like her, doing it for the love of the game and not because East European taskmasters are driving them on. Check out this bit from The Washington Post:

"This year has been so enjoyable because it's been so relaxed," Kwan said. "Maybe it's telling me something: I should put less pressure on myself, just go out there and have fun . . . I like it this way. It's just like, no pressure, easy-going. It's the way it should have been last year, and at other competitions when I was too intense."

She found her coach, Scott Williams, whom she hired late last summer, a perfect partner with whom to take this season's weird ride. A handful of prominent coaches offered their services after she competed last year with only her father rinkside. Kwan, though, chose the little-known Williams, a long-haired, longtime friend and former elite skater who shares Kwan's California tan.

She no longer needed the strong opinions of Frank Carroll, whom she dumped a year before the Olympics. She did not need the hard-core training approach of Russian coaches Tatiana Tarasova or Alexei Mishin. She needed someone who exuded calm rather than tension. Williams seems to consider himself little more than the instrument-tuner in Kwan's symphony. And that suited her perfectly.

"He has this sort of aura, very relaxing, very calming," she said. "He has a great effect on me on the ice and off the ice. It helps me get in that zone when I am very confident."

It's like, for her, little league is over--she's got a major league mentality, where browbeating is no longer required and a soothing, dareIsay Phil Jacksonesque figure is. This can only be good for the athletic legitmacy of figure skating, which needs to encourage skater to stay "amateur" and develop into really really good skaters. It's a shame this is happening at the same time as the ISU is at it's lowest state, but what can you do.

Michelle Kwan won her fifth world title on Saturday. By the way.

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