Heart of a Champion

By Jon Gluskin

There’s a sacred list in sports full of great athletes. The list includes some of the best athletes to ever play their respective sports.

But it might just be the one list an athlete never wants to make.

Unfortunately for figure skater Michelle Kwan, on Sunday, she became the newest member of the club – the club for exceptional athletes never to win the big one.

When Kwan withdrew from the Turino Olympics because of a groin injury, her illustrious career came to an end after accomplishing everything but a coveted Olympic gold medal.

I’m by no means a figure skating fan – I can’t even tell you what a triple axle means – but I am a sports fan. And being a sports fan, you must be able to listen and appreciate Kwan’s story and sympathize for the end of a career at only 25.

For about a decade, Kwan has been the face of figure skating. She’s gained awe and respect from around the world for her charm, poise and charisma.

Her resume includes five world and nine U.S. titles.

In 1998 at the Nagano games, she took home the silver medal. In the 2002 Salt Lake City games, she took home the bronze. She was the favorite at each.

Life’s not always fair.

“I can’t even think past now,” Kwan said to the Associated Press. “It’s physical pain that’s keeping me from performing and skating. But it’s also emotional pain as well.”

The harsh reality is that when people think about Michelle Kwan, they will think of a great skater, but one who never won the gold.

It’s like when people think about Dan Marino. They think of one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, who has set record after record, but has never won a Super Bowl.

It shouldn’t have to be this way.

I know we don’t live in a perfect utopian world where everyone’s a winner and nobody’s a loser. It’s important that winning is emphasized, but at the same time, don’t overemphasize it.

Of the millions of athletes throughout the world, how many actually win the gold or the championship?

Very few.

It shouldn’t be held against Kwan for not being one of those few.

When children start playing sports for the first time, they’re taught the values of competition. They’re taught the importance of giving 100 percent effort. They’re taught the importance of being the best they can be. They’re even taught the importance of having fun.

Over time they are taught the importance of winning.

So why is that when all is said and done, winning’s the only thing that matters?

Why must society be so negative and look at sports not by what is won, but instead by what is lost?

Kwan hasn’t been the same since the Salt Lake games. She’s battled a hip injury along with her groin injury. Saturday morning during her practice session, she left 15 minutes before it ended because of pain.

On Sunday, when she was evaluated by a doctor, he suggested she not skate. And with that, Kwan’s brilliant career most likely came to an end.

She’s leaving with a legacy that should be embraced instead of questioned.

“Michelle Kwan means more to the United States Olympic Committee than maybe any other athlete that’s ever performed,” USOC chairman Peter Uberroth said to the AP. “She’s been a leader, she’s been gracious, she’s somebody that cares for so many youngsters that are training in our country.”

These are the traits that should define a champion.

Kwan has every right to be disappointed she never got that gold medal around her neck, but that’s life – nothing comes easy.

Kwan said it best on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno, after the 1998 games.

“I didn’t lose the gold, I won the silver.”

Jon Gluskin is a senior in Communications. He can be reached at [email protected]