Meeting Michelle Kwan for the first time

By MaryAnn Soh

Michelle Kwan makes debut appearance in S'pore
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» Michelle Kwan to open MBS skating rink

She was a sporting star I distinctively remember when I was growing up, and perhaps I can say the same for many others.

Through the years, I've watched Michelle Kwan - then, an up-and-coming figure skater - wow crowds with her magical performances from the television. Secretly, I wished that someday I would meet her in person.

I was 12 then.

Today, more than a decade later, I finally met her. What can I say, it's like a dream come true.

As part of my job, I found myself within two metres of a sporting star whom I've admired since young, conducting an interview at the Presidential Suite of Marina Bay Sands (MB) hotel.

The world champion figure skater is in town for the first time for the inaugural opening of a new skating rink in Singapore, located at The Shoppes of MBS.

With a high ponytail, LBD (little black dress) and killer heels, Kwan strutted towards me as my heartbeat accelerated, and shook my hand with a beaming smile on her face.

Kwan, who only arrived in Singapore yesterday, was surprisingly chirpy as I would have imagined her to be jet-lagged.

The 30-year-old Californian kicks off conversation with the press talking about her little nieces and how they'd do girlie things together whenever "auntie" was over at their place. That was when I realised how time had passed and Kwan was much different from the teenage television persona whom I was acquainted with previously.

Nonetheless, I was eager to get to know the legendary skater who has 43 figure skating championships under her belt, most notable of which were the two Olympic medals won in 1998 and 2002.

Kwan, who is excited to be in Singapore, will be staging two shows on December 18 and 19.

She will be performing to "Winter Song" by Sarah Bareilles for her Singaporean fans in a programme that is self-choreographed, with the help of her sister.

Kwan, who is the youngest of three in her family, told AsiaOne that: "My sister helped in this programme. It's like a collaboration with my sister, which was fun."

Kwan's elder sister played a pivotal role in her early career as a skater as she recalls her first skating experience with her sister and brother at the age of five at a rink in a Los Angeles shopping mall.

"That's one of the reasons I started skating. I always love to dance around my living room with my sister," Kwan reminisced.

I finally meet my sporting idol Michelle Kwan.

Ever since, sports has played a big part in Kwan's life.

Kwan, who was also a gymnast, tap dancer and ballerina from a young age, said: "When I started skating, I didn't immediately know I wanted to be at the World Championships or Olympics, but I knew that sports was going to be a part of my life."

But it was determination that has gotten Kwan to where she is today.

"I started dreaming of being at the Olympics when I was seven years old. I realised pretty quickly that it takes a lot of hard work. I love dreaming and wishing, but I know that it's not just about that...you have to work toward everything that you want.

"Determination and never giving up is two strong traits I have...and it's something that I apply to everything outside of sports."

Since 2006 when Kwan was forced to withdraw from an Olympics competition due to injury, the Chinese-American has involved herself in skating in other ways.

Earlier this month, she was elected to the Special Olympics' international board of directors and Kwan is also part of the US Public Diplomacy Envoy.

When asked about her plans in the next five years, Kwan suggested that she has no concrete plans, except to be flexible about change.

She told AsiaOne: "Now I'm a bit more flexible which is great because there are so many options. Figure skating has given me a lot of options. Right now, I'm focused on school."

The graduate student at Tufts University's Fletcher School will be completing her master's programme in international affairs next May.

While she expressed an interest in continuing with her with the US Public Diplomacy Envoy, she did not give any indications whether she will return to figure skating competitively.

However, Singaporeans can look forward to seeing Kwan again next month where she will be here for a mass participation programme for ice skating, an initiative by Singapore Ice Skating Association to promote the sport locally.

When asked if the sport of figure skating will take off in Singapore, Kwan was hopeful. She said: "I know the sport is gaining popularity in Singapore and I'm excited that there's a lot of interest."

For aspiring figure skaters, Kwan sticks to her mantra that hard work is often required. She said: "(They) have to realise is it about hard work. It's about having goals and working towards something."

For those who have a fear of skating, Kwan has this advice: "I think one of the things that people have a fear of sport is getting injured. Don't be afraid to try, and don't let fear get in the way. You're never too old to try anything."

Little-known facts about the Ice Queen

Michelle's favourite skating dress

Did you have an idol that you aspired to be growing up?
When I was seven, I watched the 1988 Olympics and I watched Brian Boitano at the Olympics. It was at that moment I turned to my parents and told them I wanna be at the Olympics one day.

Do you have any pre-performance rituals?
I would put my left skate on first. Then I would step on ice with my left foot when they announce my name. I'm not left-footed, I'm right-handed. It's something I always did.

Favourite skating dress
My favourite costume was by Vera Wang. I wore it at the 2002 Olympics for my short program. It was a purple dress.

Most memorable skating experience
Guess when I was 10 years old, I wanted to get all my triple jumps. It's very difficult, but I looked at the top skaters in the country and they all had the triple jumps and they were very consistent. I have all my bruises and scars, even till this day...from trying over and over and over.

Are you dating anyone?
Yes. (Where did you meet him? Can't tell u...)

Perhaps the most striking thing about Kwan is her ability to dream the same dream day and night for a time as long as a decade.

As for me, it was nice seeing Kwan, but it was more than realising a dream of seeing a teen idol. It was about daring to believe that some day it will happen.

Michelle Kwan will be performing at the MBS skating rink today and tomorrow at 2pm. The skating rink will be open to public on December 19, at 4pm after her performance. Stay tuned to AsiaOne for more photos of her live performance!