NEW YORK – Michelle Kwan has something to admit: She’s a huge figure skating nerd.
The two-time Olympic medalist spent several days at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 in February, seeing events across the Olympic program, but the legendary skater didn’t hesitate when asked about her favorite moment at the Games.
“I had a lot of fun watching the figure skating,” she said Tuesday night at the Figure Skating in Harlem (FSH) gala in New York. “To me that’s where my heart is.”
The gala – an annual event that benefits the namesake organization, which serves young girls of color by combining education with skating skills – is a who’s who event for the sport each spring.
While Kwan chatted with recently-crowned world champion Nathan Chen and fellow Olympian Karen Chen next to the red carpet, ice dancers Maia and Alex Shibutani posed nearby with a group of FSH students as 2014 Olympic gold medalist Meryl Davis was being interviewed, and a series of other big stars – including 2002 Olympic champ Sarah Hughes, her sister and 2006 Olympian Emily Hughes, 1992 silver medalist Paul Wylie and 2002 bronze medalist Timothy Goebel – all mingled with the evening’s guests.
“This really does signify the end of the figure skating season,” the event’s emcee Andrea Joyce, a longtime NBC reporter, said to kick things off. “We got to see these incredible athletes once again do their thing at the Olympics.”
It’s been a whirlwind post-Games experience for many of the skaters, as the Stars on Ice national tour kicked off in mid-April, a mere weeks after the world championships in Milan for skaters like Nathan Chen.
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“For me, after the Olympics it was worlds, then I was focused on college stuff, tour, now I’m here,” Nathan told TeamUSA.org. He confirmed Tuesday night that he did, indeed, intend to go to Yale University this coming fall – and keep skating.
“The fact that I competed at the Olympics still kind of blows my mind,” he added with a wry smile. “(But) I don’t think the Olympics have really changed me at all. Life is still the same… it’s still crazy.”
While Chen did not have the individual event he had hoped for in PyeongChang, he did end up fifth in the men’s event with a stirring free skate and also helped the U.S. win a bronze medal in the team event alongside the Shibutanis.
Maia and Alex were the lone skaters to win an individual medal for Team USA at the Games in figure skating with their bronze in ice dance. They have opted to sit out the coming 2018-19 season to explore other ventures.
When asked about their favorite moment in PyeongChang, the Shibutanis said it was their collective performance: Skating four-for-four in knockout programs, something every athlete dreams of doing at the Olympics.
“The most satisfying thing was we skated on Olympic ice four times and four times we were the very best we could be,” Maia said.
Alex chimed in with regard to the Shibutanis’ mentoring local middle school kids in Korea as part of the United States Olympic Committee’s “Thank You, PyeongChang” goodwill program, which happened over a six-month period leading up to the Games. The kids came to watch the Shibutanis in their individual free dance.
“It was a six-month journey that we were on with them,” Maia added. “A few days after the competition we got to go meet with them and that was a really fulfilling part of the Games for us. In 2014 (at the Olympics) we weren’t ready to be anyone’s mentor, so to be able to do something like that… it felt good.”
While Kwan was on site in PyeongChang, some of her fellow legend Olympians didn’t make the trip, including 2002 men’s bronze medalist Goebel, one of the original pioneers of the quadruple jump in men’s skating.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t glued to the action.
“Don’t tell my boss, but I watched everything in real time, live!” Goebel said, laughing. “I think (Aljona) Savchenko winning pairs… that was probably the best pair free skate I’ve ever seen.”
Davis was a part of several Team USA WinterFest presented by HERSHEY’S stops during the Games around the U.S., while she also did TV work for the NBC Detroit affiliate and wrote for TeamUSA.org four years after she herself was the gold-medal winner in ice dance alongside partner Charlie White.
“I loved doing that commentary work,” she said. “I wasn’t sure how I was going to feel not being at the Games, but I loved this new role of being excited and happy as a fan. I watched from home and I loved Nathan’s comeback in the free skate. He really nailed that. And watching Team USA win bronze, that was so cool.”
Davis said that while it was at times hard to watch, she loved supporting the Shibutanis – her former training partners – and the other two U.S. ice dance teams, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates.
Karen Chen didn’t have the Olympic result she had hoped for (she finished 11th in the women’s event), but has been busy since: She is on the Stars on Ice tour and is at the same time studying for the ACT. There’s been a lot of reading on buses and in the locker rooms of big arenas.
Thinking back to PyeongChang, the ceremonies make Chen most nostalgic.
“The Opening and Closing Ceremony were incredible,” she said. “I have a lot of pictures to look back on, but it was this crazy feeling of being with all these athletes – especially from Team USA – about their stories and how we all ended up there together. It inspires me for moving forward.”
But leave it to Kwan to tie everything up so well – and in the Olympic spirit – in reflecting about her time in South Korea.
“I love seeing how international the Olympics are,” she said. “You walk around near the venues and see all the different flags waving. That’s what I enjoy the most: Seeing all the people there in the name of the Olympics, just enjoying it, too.”
But let’s be real: No one was having as good of a time at the figure skating as Kwan. Can you blame her?