With five world figure skating titles, seven U.S. titles and Olympic silver and bronze medals to her credit, Torrance native Michelle Kwan is in elite company. But this summer, she's just another student toting books around UCLA.
The 23-year-old South Bay resident, who this year matched Carol Heiss' record for most world championships by a female U.S. skater, returned to the classroom after several years' absence. She's also training and working for Disney by making appearances at theme parks and movie premieres. She hasn't entered any Grand Prix events this season, but she hasn't ruled anything out.
Q: How long had it been since you were able to fit school into your schedule, and what's it like being back on campus? Are you recognized?
A: It's been a while. I really can't remember exactly. I was taking two classes, then one, then I stopped, then I competed. Last season, when I was competing, I couldn't find time because I was trying to find a coach and an ice rink.
It feels great. The class I'm taking is a discussion class, and I get to talk with my classmates. I forgot how much fun it is.... They know that I skate. A few people went to the Web site for [the movie] "Pirates of the Caribbean," and said, 'Were you there? We saw your picture.' To them, it was a big thing -- the red carpet, celebrities everywhere. Seriously, if you've been to one premiere, you've been to them all. It's a huge scene. You get out of the limo, walk along the red carpet, see a movie and then go home. You make sure that when you're walking along the red carpet, you don't have broccoli on your teeth. And your cheeks hurt afterward from smiling.
Q: What are your plans for the upcoming season, and will you continue to collaborate with coach Scott Williams?
A: Yes. He and I have been working, though not as much right now. I'm trying to take it easy. I went to Nikolai [Morozov, her choreographer] and I have short and long programs, but I haven't yet decided what I'll be doing. I have a pro-am I'm committed to [Oct. 3 at New York].
Q: And beyond that?
A: Besides that, I don't have many things planned. I may be going to Hong Kong again for Disney. I'm thinking about fall quarter classes to take and how I should go about planning things.
Q: After Salt Lake City, Sarah Hughes acknowledged that she found it difficult to balance elite-level skating, school and responsibilities to endorsers. She's going to Yale this fall and isn't competing in many events. How do you manage to balance all the demands on you?
A: It is pretty intense. It is difficult, especially when it's your first time. For me it was a complete shock. I was out of things socially, because I didn't go to high school -- I had a tutor -- and I had my own skating group of friends. I went from Lake Arrowhead to UCLA to L.A., living in dorms. It was pretty intense for her, I'm sure, and it will be intense if she's going to compete, to keep up with everybody and keep up your schooling and endorsements. And that's important, because you want to be a good spokesperson. To be able to satisfy everybody and be happy and do things socially and hang out with your friends, it is hard to balance.
I want to do everything, and that's why my parents make fun of me and say, 'You can't do everything.' You have to make time for things. I know I skate better when I have that balance. When I make time for friends, I don't go on the ice [feeling resentful]. It's harder for me to allow myself to have fun and go on vacation and enjoy myself. I haven't taken more than a weekend off. The more I wait, the more it's, 'Should I? I can't.' I go on the ice, even though I'm not skating very much. I might as well take two weeks off. I'm feeling I shouldn't, then feeling I should.
Q: What are your thoughts on the new Code of Points that will be used in Grand Prix events this season? It has been theorized that the cumulative scoring system will reward jumping over artistry. Have you changed the way you choreograph your programs because of the new system?
A: I just don't know what's going to happen. If they were going to use the point system at worlds, it would be different. If they're only using it at Grand Prix events, I couldn't imagine choreographing just for that.
It could be like, 'Here are my crossovers. Here is my lutz jump.' Then axel, salchow, toe loop. It's like a practice. For me, it's about the performance. And everyone skates differently. Will a huge double axel get the same points as a little double axel? How are [judges] supposed to analyze it and take it apart? That's what they're doing, picking at it. An outside edge is an outside edge, but there's different styles.
Q: Is it a matter of feeling your way through it as it evolves?
A: That's what I have to do. The way it's going, no one's certain that might be the way they judge at the Olympics.
Q: Which brings up the question that has to be asked: What are your plans regarding the 2006 Turin Olympics?