Matt Lauer: One year from today the Salt Lake City winter Olympic games begin, opening ceremonies. 365 Days from right now. And we're going to be doing a little bit of an Olympic preview in this half hour, starting with you at the rink?

Katie Couric: First of all we're going to be hearing from Michelle Kwan, who you remember won the silver medal in Nagano. Tara Lipinski got the gold. But Michelle is an absolutely exquisite skater and a really wonderful young woman. And I spent some time talking with her recently. So we'll tell you all about her hopes and Olympic dreams...

The interview with Michelle is not being done live. It was probably done right after Nationals, on the same day as the “Olympic Show.”

KC: As we’ve been reminding you all morning, the 2002 Winter Olympic games are one year from today. The ladies figure skating competition is one of the most popular event at the winter games, and one of the early favorites for gold is a familiar face in this country. She's a 20-year-old college student at UCLA. And she's won the last four US Figure Skating championships. Her name? Michelle Kwan.

---They now cut to the taped piece on Michelle---

They show a clip of Michelle jumping during The World is Not Enough on COI, bowing at Nationals in 1994, bowing after Lyra Angelica at Nationals, bowing after Red Violin, and jumping during On My Own at COI, then Michelle begins to speak. While she is talking, a clip of her doing a spiral from East of Eden at Nationals, and doing a layback and her final pose during Lyra Angelica at Nationals is shown.)

Michelle Kwan: (Michelle is wearing the same brown leather sleeveless dress she wore on the Olympic Show, with her hair down. The set makes it look like they are sitting on ice.) There's so many things that I love about skating. The audience, the ice, the lights, the music, and when you feel the wind blowing in your face and you feel the chill of the ice and you're just out there, that's when I understand. This is why I love skating.

While Katie speaks, they show a clip of Michelle’s final pose during Salome at Worlds, still photos of her spiral during A Day in the Life, end pose of Ariane, and end pose of Rachmaninoff, and her jumping in ‘94 Nationals.

KC: Graceful yet powerful, Michelle Kwan is an artist on ice. Five-time National champion. Three-time World champion. Olympic silver medalist. Happily growing up in figure skates while the whole world watched.

You really started skating at 5, right?

MK: Mm-hmm.

KC: Um, when you started, did people say, "wow, she's got talent"?

MK: People always say, "Oh, Michelle was born to skate." No one's born to skate! It's a lot of hard work. Um, when I stepped on the ice, the first time, I was very challenged, and I love, love challenges. It gets me all worked up, and I want to get better and better and better. And that’s what skating offered me.

While Katie speaks, they show pictures of a baby and very young Michelle, all of which were in her autobiography. A clip of a young Michelle doing a single is shown. Then two photos of a young Michelle with medals and trophies, also in her book, are shown.

KC: The youngest of three children, Michelle was born in Southern California. By age 7, there were signs she had a future in skating. Early medals and trophies hinted at what was to come.

When did you decide that you were going to devote your life to skating? I mean, was it something you realized when you were very young? Was this a burning desire?

MK: I think the moment it hit me that I wanted to compete at the Olympic games was in ‘88 when I watched Brian Boitano win the Olympics. (A clip of Brian skating at the Olympics is shown.) I was watching TV with my family, and then I turned around and was like “I want to go to the Olympics.” It never occurred to me that you would have to work hard, you would have to fall a billion times, you have to qualify to get there. And I said, “OK, let’s go tomorrow. I was, like, OK...sign me in” (Michelle laughs)

While Katie speaks, clips of Michelle doing her final spin and bowing at ‘94 Nationals, skating to Rachmaninoff at the Olympics and skating to Lyra Angelica are shown. Closeups of both Tara and Michelle on the Olympic podium are shown.

KC: Before long, the teenager with the pigtails was wowing judges and thrilling huge crowds. At 17, she entered the 1998 Olympics as the overwhelming favorite for gold. But 15 year old Tara Lipinski stole the spotlight, and Michelle ended up with the silver medal around her neck.

MK: I was very...disappointed, um, you know not receiving the gold. You know, that’s what you dream of. You never dream about getting the second, of course. But a lot of people came up to me and said, oh, I’m sorry, you know, you lost the Olympics. And I turned around, and I said, “wait a minute.” It’s not like a skated terrible, and there was nothing to lose because I had nothing in the beginning. And going to the Olympics, and actually winning the silver medal. And I feel like it is winning because I went there, and gained something.

A clip of the Olympic podium, with the flags going up and the national anthem being played, are shown. They also show a closeup of Michelle on the podium.

KC: To stand there on the medal stand, and hear the national anthem played not for you, but for Tara Lipinski. What was going through your head when you look back a that moment?

MK: When I dream of actually going to the Olympics, it’s always being on top, and seeing the American flag going up. And, I was on the podium, and I was like, “oh, I wish I was up. I wish I was standing a little taller. (Katie and Michelle laugh) I wish I was on that first step.” But just to hear the anthem, I think it was an honor because it was for the country.

While Katie speaks, the following clips are shown:

  • Michelle posing during the People magazine’s 50 most beautiful people photo shoot
  • The logo for Princess on Ice, Michelle’s latest Disney special
  • A clip from The World is Not Enough, from the TV ad for COI this year
  • At the Wednesday 2001 Nationals press conference
  • At the premiere for the movie “Toy Story 2”
  • At the 2000 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards
  • Posing with her wax statue
  • At the premiere for the movie “The Cell”

KC: Michelle’s grace in defeat helped turn her silver medal into a pot of gold. There are reports she makes an estimated 2-4 million dollars a year in endorsements. And her celebrity extends well beyond the world of skating. The subject of photo shoots, and a frequent guest at movie premieres, Michelle has been immortalized in wax, and named to People Magazine’s 50 Most Beautiful People List.

Heading into Salt Lake, the Olympics, you are obviously the most popular Olympic hopeful, or one of the most popular Olympic hopefuls in this country. Does that feel good, or does it feel a bit scary?

MK: It feels good, because, a lot of people are so supportive of me and my skating. And, I mean, there are some added pressure to that, because there’s a lot of expectations, for you to win.

KC: Tara Lipinski won’t be at the Salt Lake Olympics. She turned profession shortly after winning the gold. But now there’s a new rising star, with dreams of Olympic glory. Her name is Sarah Hughes, and she finished second to Michelle at the recent National championships. (Clips of Tara and Sarah skating are shown.)

Now you have this 15 year old whipper snapper, named Sarah Hughes, whose nipping at your heels a bit. Do you sometimes look over at her and say “oh my gosh, another Tara Lipinski!” (Michelle and Katie laugh)

MK: Oh! You can’t let up for one second. You have to understand that people are working just as hard as you are, maybe even harder, so you have to, like, stay on top of it.

KC: How important is it for you to win a gold medal this time around?

MK: It’s meaningful, because, then I can say that I accomplished everything I desired in my skating career. But, I’ve gotten so much out of skating already. I believe everything that else is just extra.

While Michelle spoke, the following clips were shown:

  • Doing a flying camel spin during On My Own on tour
  • A still photo of Michelle bowing after Red Violin at Worlds
  • A still photo of a spiral from Rachmaninoff at the Olympics
  • A still photo of Michelle bowing after Lyra Angelica at Nationals
  • Doing her final spin in Lyra Angelica at Nationals

KC: What a nice girl. This spring, by the way, Michelle will be touring with the ice show, John Hancock Champions on Ice.

Screen shots courtesy of Diane

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