Coaches and competitors accustomed to watching Michelle Kwan produce championships when least expected were shocked and saddened to hear that skating's ultimate trouper was out of the Olympics. Kwan dropped out of the Torino Games after suffering another groin injury during a practice session Saturday.
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"I feel badly because I think she wanted to do this very, very much," said Frank Carroll, who discovered Kwan and coached her for 10 years. "I think to win here was a real goal in her life.
"Disappointments are part of life. You have to be happy in life, and so I hope she makes the right choices in what she wants to do."
Kwan split with Carroll in October 2001, four months before the Salt Lake City Olympics, where she finished third. Carroll now works with Evan Lysacek, a member of the U.S. men's team, and he hasn't seen Kwan since January 2005.
"I would say I love her, win or lose," Carroll said. "And the time we spent together was very precious to me and I am sure it was to her. Basically, I want her to be happy."
Kwan can't possibly have happy thoughts about these games, in which she went to the opening ceremony, skated a shortened practice session, held a news conference, saw a doctor, withdrew, and held another news conference.
She'll be heading home long before the women — or even the men, who get started Tuesday — begin competition.
Three-time U.S. men's champion Johnny Weir has gone through his share of injuries this season, but is healthy for the Olympics. He could empathize with Kwan, though.
"I wish she was able to compete. It was her last hope for a gold medal," Weir said. "But when your body is not working properly, you can't skate. There is no way you can possibly feel better if your body is not right."
Kwan's withdrawal places Sasha Cohen squarely in the spotlight, a place Kwan always held — even when she wasn't on hand, such as at last month's U.S. championships. Kwan, sidelined by a different groin injury than the one that ended her Olympics before they began, received a medical bye onto the U.S. team, overshadowing Cohen's first national title.
Cohen shrugged off Kwan's absence then, and did so again Sunday.
"I'm a little bit shocked," Cohen said. "I know how tough it is to come back from an injury and get yourself together. It's great she tried, but things don't always work out.
"For me that was never an issue, it has been about my own performance," Cohen added of Kwan's situation. "If I do what I am capable of, I would be very happy with the result. So it doesn't affect my approach."
Kwan was lauded by U.S. team officials for her dedication to the Olympic movement and to her sport.
"Michelle Kwan is truly a great champion," U.S. Figure Skating president Ron Hershberger said. "She has been and she still is. She is so widely admired and adored by skaters and figure skating fans everywhere."
Cohen believes those fans and other skaters can learn from what Kwan went through in her chase of the Olympic crown.
"I think in a way it kind of humanizes the sport," Cohen said. "She is someone that has been an icon that's always been there, and you have always seen her hard edge and she's always competed and done well. And to see that people can be at the very top of the sport and can also have hard times just humanizes it for other athletes. To know that there are good times and there are bad times, and you have to persevere and kind of deal with what life gives you."