Injury robs Kwan of skating dream

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The Independent Online

Michelle Kwan's lingering hope of winning an Olympic figure-skating gold medal to go with her five world titles effectively disappeared yesterday as she confirmed her withdrawal from these Games because of a groin injury.

The 25-year-old darling of the United States public - and sponsors - had successfully petitioned for a place in the US team despite being unfit for the trials. But she appeared doubtful about competing after cutting short her first practice session on Saturday, complaining that she had stiffened up after attending the opening ceremony the previous evening.

"It's one of the toughest decisions I've had to make, but I know it's the right one," Kwan said yesterday, adding that she had not slept all night. "Twenty minutes into practice on Saturday I felt really stiff. I did only about three jumps on the ice and I tried the triple flip and when I flipped out of it I knew that I'd done something. After physio it just got worse and worse. I knew it was not something that would go away right now.

"I didn't think in my heart I could be at my best. At 2.15 in the morning I thought I have to do something about it and get it checked out right away, so I made some phone calls."

Kwan insisted that her current groin injury was not the same as the one which had prevented her going to the trials. Had it been the same, officials might not have allowed the reserve - Emily Hughes, the 17-year-old sister of the 2002 champion, Sarah - to take her place. Asked about her future, Kwan, who wept as she made her announcement, replied: "I can't even think past now and being here," adding that her parents had travelled to Turin hoping to see her win the gold she narrowly missed in Salt Lake, where she won bronze, and Nagano, where she took silver. "If I don't win gold, it's OK. I've had a great career and been very lucky."

Kwan, who won nine consecutive medals at the world championships between 1996 and 2004, has always found the Olympics a frustrating experience. Even in 1994, as a 13-year-old reserve, she narrowly missed involvement as Nancy Kerrigan recovered from the hammer attack which injured her knee, and second choice Tonya Harding, implicated in that attack, kept her place after threatening to sue the US team management.

* The favourite Shaun White produced an imperious run to win gold in the men's Olympic snowboard halfpipe yesterday after recovering from a shaky start. The 19-year-old American - nicknamed "the Flying Tomato" because of his red hair - racked up 46.8 points out of 50 in his first run in the final, landing back-to-back 1080s (1,080-degree spins).

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