|Figure skater Michelle Kwan poses for a for a portrait during the
2013 Team USA Media Summit on Sept. 29, 2013 in Park City, Utah.
PARK CITY, Utah – As a figure skater, Michelle Kwan grew up with TV cameras and reporters constantly seeking her interview.
Now, with the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games fast approaching, Kwan finds herself on the other side of the cameras — as a TV analyst for FOX Sports 1.
Kwan, who earned two Olympic medals (a silver medal in 1998 and a bronze medal in 2002), spent much of this week at the U.S. Olympic Committee’s 2013 Team USA Media Summit interviewing America’s Olympic figure skating hopefuls. More than 100 athletes and 350 media members attended the summit in Park City, Utah, in an effort to promote the upcoming Winter Games in Sochi. Kwan will be traveling to Sochi along with several other Olympic-athletes-turned-reporters for FOX Sports 1, joining a staff with alpine skier Picabo Street, hockey star Chris Chelios and snowboarder Andy Finch. Kwan had some experience with the media before, having worked as a correspondent with ABC during the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.
“I want the athletes to feel comfortable talking to me,” Kwan said. “I want them to relate their personalities to the world.”
Kwan does have a day job, working as a senior adviser for public diplomacy and public affairs for the U.S. State Department in Washington, D.C.
Although Kwan is a star in her own right, she said her goal is to focus on the sport of figure skating and to introduce fans to its newest stars. Among the figure skaters Kwan met with during the summit for sit-down interviews were ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, men’s national champion Max Aaron and women’s competitors Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold. Kwan might broaden her coverage in Sochi and interview athletes from other sports but has no specific plans at this time.
During Kwan’s lengthy skating career, she captured five world titles and nine U.S. championships, becoming one of the world’s most recognized athletes in the process. Although she hasn’t skated competitively since 2005, she remains one of the most popular figures in her sport. So much so, that today’s young stars were eager to be interviewed by her.
“I think that would be the best interview ever,” said Caydee Denney, a 2010 Olympic pairs skater who is hoping to make a return trip to the Winter Games in February.
Denney’s skating partner John Coughlin said that if the opportunity arose to be interviewed by Kwan, “We’d probably have more questions for her than she’d have for us.”
Because Kwan had so much media exposure throughout her life — she was a pony-tailed preteen when she first grabbed national attention by the press and appeared on the covers of everything from Sports Illustrated to The New York Times — she practically earned enough credit hours to complete a[CJM1] journalism degree. But now that Kwan is the one doing the interviewing, she said she has gained more of an appreciation for what the reporters have to do in their jobs.
As a skater, Kwan had years of studying various reporters’ interviewing styles and techniques and said one person in the business she has really grown to admire even more now is Katie Couric.
“She’s fun, yet serious,” Kwan said of Couric. “She knows how to frame her questions for her guests, and she has done her research.”
Kwan is trying to follow that example and clearly came to the summit prepared, having a list of questions ready for each skater. Kwan said she spent plenty of time reviewing YouTube videos of skaters’ recent competitions.
During her interview with Aaron, who is hoping to defend his national title and earn a spot on the U.S. Olympic Team in Sochi, for example, she chatted with him about his intense workout regimens. Aaron, who lives in Colorado Springs, Colo., told her how he enjoyed working out at the U.S. Olympic Training Center alongside members of the U.S. Olympic women’s bobsledders and how he could squat 315 pounds.
She also asked him about his intense skating programs, which are among the most technically demanding in the world. His long program, he told her, features three quads and two triple Axels, and when he said that, Kwan’s jaw dropped.
“I can’t imagine doing three quads,” she said. “I think I’d faint at the start of my program if I had to do that.”
Kwan also was able to swap stories with Aaron about working with choreographer Lori Nichol, who crafted some of Kwan’s most memorable programs and created Aaron’s long program for Sochi. All Kwan had to hear was Aaron say the word, “ooze,” — a term Nichol often uses in her choreography sessions — to make that connection with Aaron.
Even though Kwan is 33, she shares common bonds with her young skating interviewees. With Gracie Gold, who is 18, for instance, Kwan was able to talk about Frank Carroll, who coached Kwan for years and just recently became Gold’s new coach. With two-time national champion Ashley Wagner, Kwan could talk about attempting a triple-triple, something Kwan was asked about many times in her career. Big victories, narrow losses, injuries, coaching changes — Kwan has pretty much seen and done it all.
Kwan also could relate to the skaters, especially because she dealt with similar outside pressures, be it from sponsors, financial issues and, of course, the media.
“I want to be careful when I’m asking them some questions because I know what it’s like,” Kwan said. “But I was surprised when some of them answered my questions the way they did, saying things like, ‘My goal isn’t just to make the Olympic Team but compete for the gold medal.’ I never formulated my answers that way, but I admire that.”
Kwan has enjoyed asking the skaters off-beat questions and adding humor to her interviews.
“Everyone’s so different,” she said. “It’s been different interviewing Ashley versus interviewing Max.”
But for as much as she has enjoyed her new role as a TV analyst, the skaters have enjoyed the chance to answer her questions. Aaron, for one, said he could not wait to tell his parents that he had an interview with Kwan, calling the experience, “truly neat.”
Charlie White was excited about the opportunity to be interviewed by Kwan. He and partner Davis had spent their time in Park City with jam-packed schedules being shuttled from one interview to another. But he wasn’t about to complain shortly before he and Davis were to be escorted to the broadcast room for their interview taping with Kwan.
“I’m looking forward to this,” White said. “She’s a legend.”
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she has covered two Olympic Games and two Olympic Winter Games. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.