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Skating icon ends Winter Olympic medal quest

In an exclusive interview, Michelle Kwan talks to NBC’s Bob Costas about why she dropped out of the competition.
/ Source: TODAY

Michelle Kwan walked into the opening ceremony for the 2006 Olympic Winter Games Friday night full of smiles. The 25-year-old, who had won a silver and a bronze medal in previous Olympics, was going for the gold this time. But during the weekend, Kwan realized that her nagging groin injury would make it impossible for her to skate her best. At the press conference Sunday announcing that she was quitting, Kwan tried to hold back her tears; she couldn’t.

Kwan almost didn't make the U.S. Olympic team. In January, a groin injury forced Kwan to withdraw from the national championships. She was named to the team only after petitioning for a spot. With Kwan's departure, 17-year-old Emily Hughes, who finished third in the nationals, is taking her place. This is a sad ending to Kwan’s Olympic career. In 1998, she came in second to another American skater, Tara Lipinksi. And in 2002, though she was the favorite, she finished third. Sarah Hughes, Emily’s sister, took the gold. Kwan talks to NBC’s Bob Costas and former Olympic champion Scott Hamilton about her emotional and difficult decision.

Michelle Kwan: Yesterday morning, I woke up very stiff. I had about an hour and a half to warm up, do jumps, and get ready for practice. I just couldn't get my legs under me in practice. I did a few triples. When I flipped out of the triple flip, I kind of pulled my groin and it just hasn't been feeling very good. At 2:15 in the morning when I had to go see the doctor, I knew it wasn't good. At 3 o'clock I had to make a decision.

Bob Costas: The competition isn't until a week from Tuesday. In your mind, evidently, there was no chance that you could be ready at a sufficient level to truly compete.

Kwan: It was a hard decision. In my petition [to join the U.S. team], I said that if I didn't feel that I could be 100 percent, then I would pull myself out of the team. And after pulling my groin again yesterday, I just knew that the important thing is for America to have their best skaters. I didn't want to get in the way of that, so I pulled myself out of the team. The Olympics is about courage, strength, and passion. It’s all of that rolled into one, and the will to want to be the best. To represent your country is an honor and a great experience. It’s not enough to be an athlete; it takes physical strength. And unfortunately, that’s not what I have right now. Physically, I'm not able to be at my best. I believe that Emily Hughes is ready and will perform her best, and make America proud.

Scott Hamilton: You look at Olympic gold as a moment. You've given us so many phenomenal moments and Torino is no exception. This was to be another opportunity for us to see you shine, and I know this must be so difficult for you. What must be going on in your heart right now, because no one has ever seen you back away from anything. But to offer this spot up so soon, when there was time left — was there any temptation just to try to hang on for a few more days before you made this decision?

Kwan: I had to be very honest with myself. I said in my petition that I would withdraw and take myself out of the team if I didn't feel like I could be 100 percent. Last night it was difficult, because after seeing the doctor, I sat in my room in the village and I had to think about my situation and I had to make a decision right away. I phoned my mom and my dad and told them that I'd be withdrawing from the team. If in my heart I know I can't be my best, I have to make a decision. Hanging on wouldn't do anybody any good.