Michelle Kwan might be out of the Olympics before she ever starts. Kwan cut short her first practice because of a sore groin Saturday and left open the possibility of withdrawing from the Winter Games if she's not 100 percent healthy.
The five-time world champion stopped short of saying she was considering dropping off the U.S. team. But asked directly, she replied:
"I really have to pay attention to how I am feeling these days. Dropping out, it's not something I want to do, but I have to listen to what my feelings are."
The 25-year-old skater said a long plane ride and marching in the opening ceremony caused enough problems for her to skip a run-through one day after arriving in Turin. She planned to practice Sunday after getting treatment for the groin injury, which kept her out of last month's U.S. championships and forced her to get a medical bye into her third Olympics.
"Physically, if I'm not able to skate, I would give my spot up," she said.
If she drops out before the Feb. 19 draw for the women's event, Emily Hughes would take her place. Hughes is the third-place finisher at the national championships and younger sister of 2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes.
A silver medalist in 1998 and a bronze winner in 2002, Kwan is a five-time world champion, but nothing about her truncated workout indicated she's ready for another shot at gold.
"Concerns? Yes, of course I would love to do my best," she said. "I would love to do a triple-triple combination, everything. Practice this morning wasn't as easy-flowing as I wanted it to be. I am going to have to gather myself together, gather my thoughts and practice better than I did this morning."
The nine-time U.S. champion quit the 40-minute workout session with about 15 minutes remaining and smiled at assistant team leader Taffy Holiday when she left the ice. When she skated, though, she looked serious, even dour, and missing three triple flips couldn't have helped her mood.
When she stood by the sideboards and chatted with team leader Roger Glenn, he could be seen holding Kwan's hand or arm several times as if comforting her.
"Waking up stiff, it's like, 'Is it coming back? What's going on?' " she said. "At practice this morning, I didn't have my coach (Rafael Arutunian), I didn't have feedback, I didn't have anything."
After Kwan got the medical bye, she had to pass a Jan. 27 monitoring session conducted by U.S. Figure Skating. Saturday was her first public practice this year.
Her first jump, a smooth triple toe loop, came 13 minutes into the workout. She then landed on two feet on her first triple flip, and fell hard on her next attempt at the jump. Kwan also cut another try into a double flip.
Most of the practice was spent on footwork and spins. At one point, Kwan did her footwork from her free skate and Glenn and U.S. judge Charlie Cyr seemed to be checking the levels of difficulty.
Kwan didn't have her program music at the rink, but she often does run-throughs without it. Her early departure was unexpected — and unlike her.
"I was debating whether or not to rest today," she said. "I just wanted to get out, get my legs under me and feel the ice. Sometimes you don't need to do run-throughs."
As for Hughes, Kwan knows what it's like to be an alternate. In 1994, after Nancy Kerrigan received a medical bye onto the team, Kwan was sent to Norway by U.S. officials and practiced in Oslo. She didn't skate in the Lillehammer Games and Kerrigan won a silver medal.
"You always have options in everything," Kwan said. "Right now, it's like I have to get myself better, I have to know what I can do and what I am capable of doing."