Katie Couric: Now we are going to kick off a series we call Athlete to Watch. Everyday were here in Salt Lake, well introduce you to a medal hopeful. First up, is 1998 Olympic silver medalist in ladies figure skating, Michelle Kwan. I recently spent some time with Michelle in her hometown of Lake Arrowhead, California. At 21 years old, shes more determined than ever to win the top prize in the sport she adores.

The following clips are shown while Michelle is talking:

  • Spiral during Rachmaninoff at 02 Nationals
  • Bowing at 94 Nationals
  • Going into end pose of Carmen
  • Final spin during Lyra Angelica at 98 Nationals
  • Spin at 01 Nationals practice (from this session)
  • Camel spin during Lyra Angelica at 97 Skate America
  • Final spin during Song of the Black Swan at 01 Nationals
  • Bowing after Song of the Black Swan at 00 Skate America
  • Blowing a kiss after East of Eden at 01 Nationals
  • On 96 Nationals podium
  • On 01 Worlds podium
  • On 00 Nationals podium
  • On 01 Nationals podium
  • On 98 Nationals podium, and skating around after the medal ceremony

Michelle Kwan: Through my skating, I always want to inspire people. I love the sport so much, I want to show that love to other people. And the best feeling for me is when people comes back and say, You made me cry. You made me so happy when you won. You made me feel like Im skating. And that's what I want to share with the world, because skating is such a beautiful sport.

The following clips are shown while Katie is talking:

  • Skating onto the ice for East of Eden at 01 Worlds
  • Spiral during Song of the Black Swan at 01 Nationals
  • Skating with flag after medal ceremony at 01 Worlds
  • Spinning during Salome at 96 Worlds
  • On the 96 Worlds podium
  • Waving after East of Eden at 01 Worlds
  • Jumping during Romanza at 96 Nationals
  • Jumping during Salome at 96 Nationals
  • On 96 Nationals podium
  • Ariane at 99 Nationals
  • On 98 Nationals podium
  • Jumping during 01 Nationals practice

KC: In recent years, Michelle Kwan has dominated ladies figure skating. In 1996, she won her first World championship. Last year, she won her fourth. For five consecutive years, she has stood atop the podium at the US National championships. There is only one jewel missing from Kwan's crown. She has not won Olympic gold. to Michelle I know you were disappointed, obviously in 1998. But you were incredibly gracious about it for someone who was just, what, 17 years old at the time.

MK: (Michelle has her hair down, a little longer than shoulder length, and is wearing a black turtleneck type top) It was hard for me because (long pause) when you're younger, you always dream of winning. And when you come so close, and win a silver medal. (Clips of Michelle during Lyra Angelica at 98 Olympics is shown.) It was hard, because I did everything. I didn't make any mistakes, but just the sparkle of the performance wasn't there. Even to this day, its hard for me to watch the Olympics.

KC: (While Katie is talking, various clips are shown including Michelle during the photo shoots for the 50 most beautiful People and this weeks TV Guide. Also clips from the Chevrolet scholarship winners beach meeting, at the 2000 Blockbuster Entertainment Awards, and at the movie premiere of The Cell.) Michelles graciousness in defeat has made her one of the most popular Olympians of all time. There are reports she makes two to four million dollars a year in endorsements. She does photo shoots for magazines. Has a college scholarship program for female athletes. Shes even been hired to play herself in a TV commercial.

On the set of the Barbie commercial

Girl: Michelle Kwan, can you sign this? Its for Barbie.

MK: (signing the Barbie box) Sure, anything for a fan!

--Back to the interview--

KC: Is all the fun for you, or, I mean, is it a pain? How do you feel about doing those things?

MK: Its awesome.

KC: Really?

MK: Yea. You have a makeup artist come, they do your hair all so (touches hair). Its just like, you get pampered, you get treated like a princess. Its fun. You have to enjoy it while you can. And I know that its not going to last forever, you know. So, soak it in. Soak in the experience.

KC: (Clip of Michelle practicing at Healthsouth with Frank is shown) Kwan admits that this past fall was one of the most difficult times in her career. She fired her long time coach, Frank Carroll. Shes not hired anyone else, and plans to go it alone. Her skating seemed to suffer. (Clips of her falling at Skate Canada are shown.) She finished first at only one out of the four competitions she skated in. What do you think was wrong? Why were you off your game, Michelle?

MK: First, no ones perfect. And, I guess, when people look at my record, its like (makes a sweeping motion with her hand) two years of all firsts...then suddenly, you get second. And then a third. Its like, (grabs her head) whats going on Michelle? You leave your coach, whats wrong with you? You know, I know I shouldnt be reading the articles or anything, but, I read this one article like, Shes...shes gone crazy! And Im thinking to myself, what makes me so crazy? You know, I have to make decisions, and Im 21 years old now, and Im a girl that has her own opinions. And for me, I feel that I have to do whats right for Michelle.

KC: (Clips of Michelle with Frank in the kiss and cry at 97 Nationals, hugging after 01 Worlds long program, by the boards at 96 Worlds, and in the kiss and cry at 98 Nationals is shown) People have been wondering, Gosh, why did Michelle fire her coach, Frank Carroll, whos been with her for 10 years. You say you still love him, but you just wanted a change. Why now?

MK: (A clip of skating during 01 Nationals practice is shown.) I have to take responsibility for my own skating. I felt really strongly about it. And I just, I thought this was the right time, even though it was 4 months before the Olympics. If it was 4 days before the Olympics, if you think it can help you skate better, and youve got to make decisions.

KC: (Clips from both Rachmaninoff and Scheherazade and at Nationals are shown) Kwans performance at the US figure skating championships last month silenced the critics. She completed all her triple jumps, and her artistry was near perfection. She easily won her sixth National title.

MK: To skate as well as I did at Nationals it felt really, really great. Because it felt that, I said, you know I believe in myself, I can do this. And I proved to myself that I can do it.

KC: (A clip of the 98 Olympic podium, and then skating in the Barbie commercial is shown.) Kwan now admits she put too much pressure on herself to win gold in 1998. She plans to have a more relaxed attitude in Salt Lake, but her ultimate goal is still the same.

MK: I want to win the gold medal. And, I came this close (motions with her hand) to winning it in 98. And, Ive got another opportunity now. And I just have to skate...skate my heart out, and have fun and enjoy myself. And know that its not life or death.

KC: Do you ever indulge yourself, and allow yourself to imagine standing on that podium, with the gold medal around your neck, holding the flowers, with the national anthem playing. You must, come on.

MK: Ive allowed myself to indulge many times. (Both laugh) Ever since I was, like, seven years old, dreaming of winning the Olympics, and standing on the podium, and holding flowers, hearing the anthem. And you know, its just, its a great...dream. And, till this day, its still a dream. You just hope your dreams come true.

The following clips are shown with music playing in the background

  • Spiral from East of Eden at 01 Skate America
  • Waving on 96 Nationals Podium
  • Jumping in 01 Nationals practice
  • Going into final pose of Song of the Black Swan at 01 Worlds

--Back live at the studio--

KC: At the last Olympics, Michelle was criticized for being too cautious in her skating, as well as her attitude. She didnt attend the opening ceremonies and did not stay in the athletes village. This time, though, she says she will march with team USA tomorrow night, and she will spend some time in the athletes village.

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Photo Jay Adeff