Kwan withdraws from U.S. Championships, will petition for Olympics spot
By BARRY WILNER
AP Sports Writer
Adding an Olympic gold to her enormous collection of medals just got much tougher for Michelle Kwan.
The nine-time U.S. champion and five-time world winner withdrew Wednesday from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships with a groin injury. Kwan, however, will petition the U.S. federation for a spot at next month's Turin Olympics -- and likely get it.
Still, after missing nearly the entire season with a hip problem, the 25-year-old would go as a long shot, not a favorite, to add gold to the Olympic silver (1998) and bronze (2002) she owns.
"Since '92, I've done 13 nationals at the senior level. Nationals is one of my favorite events," she said. "But this is how it goes, you suffer an injury and you're sidelined for a few weeks.
"The last month has been really frustrating for me," said Kwan, who last competed in early December. "After about a week of skating, I pulled my groin and I just haven't been the same since. I haven't been able to spin or jump since the 19th.
"But the good news is that my hip is feeling well and that I feel I'm capable of being 100 percent for the Olympics. That's why I put this petition in. I have a chance to win."
A chance to win at Turin, yes. But only a slight chance.
Kwan already has fallen far behind Russia's Irina Slutskaya, the world champion, and many other Olympic contenders. She rarely has competed under the new scoring system adopted by the International Skating Union that will be used at an Olympics for the first time in Turin.
And she's hardly battle-tested with so much time away from the ice.
"I know that I'm the worst critic and I know that if they accept my petition, they will come out and examine me," she said, referring to U.S. skating officials who must determine if she is fit to be part of the three-woman team. "I would do my programs or I would do my jumps. If they say, 'OK, Michelle you're ready to go,' and I don't feel I'm 100 percent, I will pull myself out of the team, because I want to be 100 percent at the Olympics."
U.S. Figure Skating executive director David Raith said the association's international committee would decide the makeup of the Olympic team on Jan. 14 after the women's free skate. A member could be replaced until Jan. 16.
Kwan, however, has been told by her doctor not to return to the ice until Jan. 13. That doesn't leave much time to prove she is prepared.
Dr. Leisure Yu, who is treating Kwan, expects a quick recovery.
"This is a very common injury among athletes and is unrelated to the strained ligament in her right hip that Michelle sustained in September, which is now doing very well," Yu said. "I examined Michelle last Friday and found that the condition of the groin pull has greatly improved. There have been no complications, and there is no reason why it shouldn't fully heal.
"At the current rate of improvement ... I'm confident that she will be in top physical condition for the Olympics."
The last time a top women's skater petitioned for an Olympic spot, Kwan wound up getting bumped from the 1994 team by Nancy Kerrigan.
"It is sort of ironic that the last person bumped off the team was me, in '94," Kwan said, recalling the Tonya and Nancy saga. "But they do have a rule for special circumstances."
Kwan has won eight straight national titles and her nine overall are tied for most ever. But given her inactivity this season, she was expected to have a difficult time holding off two-time world silver medalist Sasha Cohen at nationals in St. Louis.
Now, the question is who might be bumped if Kwan is awarded an Olympic spot? The other front-runners for a spot on the podium at nationals are Kimmie Meissner, who was third last year, and Alissa Czisny, who had an impressive Grand Prix season.
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