Behind the Bias: Getting to Know Michelle Kwan

Behind the Bias: Getting to Know Michelle Kwan

Learn the surprising backstory of the figure skater’s rise to the Olympic Winter Games.

Michelle Kwan is the most decorated American figure skater of all time. Her name is now synonymous with the sport she loves, but not everyone knows that her journey to five World Champion titles and two Olympic Winter Games medals would not have been possible without hard work, used skates, one now-famous borrowed costume and her mom’s support.

“I have to honestly say that I didn’t sacrifice anything, because it was my dream to compete in the Olympics,” said Kwan, a P&G-sponsored athlete. “My parents had to make the sacrifices. They worked multiple jobs, and they had to put food on the table, and they had to pay the bills, pay for skating lessons, pay for skates. It’s not an inexpensive sport.”

Michelle started skating when she was 5 years old. By 7 she knew she wanted to go to the Olympics, and by 12 she was competing on the international stage. But while most of the families on the international skating circuit could afford all of the expenses that come with competition, it was a challenge for the Kwans. Michelle’s parents immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong, and they struggled to make sure their children could live the American dream. They worked at her grandparents’ Chinese restaurant and held other jobs to support Michelle’s and her siblings’ athletic and artistic endeavors.

“My parents always fought for me when I was having a difficult time in my skating career and people were writing me off,” says Michelle. A few key moments of dedication and love stand out for the skating star, including when her dad gifted her a unique pair of skates. Michelle’s dad excitedly told her that he was able to get her a pair of custom skates, even though she’d never been fitted for them.

“I turned them over and saw this other girl’s name [written] on the skates,” she said. “But my father used a permanent marker and crossed it out and wrote ‘Michelle Kwan.’ I’ll never forget that moment because my dad was excited that he was able to provide these skates for me.” Michelle skated into the senior level at the age of 13 in those skates.

Costumes are another large expense that skaters and their families must take on. Most competitors on the circuit were able to afford numerous elaborate costumes from top skating designers. Michelle’s mom would stay up late making costumes so that Michelle would never look or feel different from the other competing athletes.

“My mom was not a seamstress, but I’d see her at 3 o’clock in the morning gluing crystals and sewing every bead,” Michelle says. “Some are in the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame. I cherish the ones my mom made because every bead, every crystal, was put on for a purpose and with a lot of love.”

But at the 1993 U.S. National Championships, Michelle needed one more costume at the last minute. She didn’t know it at the time, but her parents went to the other competing skaters and asked for a spare costume. Michelle came in second that night in a borrowed costume, which was unheard of at that level of competition.

Her mother’s love and support propelled Michelle to the highest levels of her sport. She competed in the Olympics twice, with her mom beside her every step of the way.

“My mom is a warrior, a superhero. When she puts her mind to doing something, there’s no stopping Mama Kwan,” Michelle says.

Michelle feels lucky to have such a supportive mom who helped her overcome judgment and criticism. “I think there were times in my skating career [when] she shielded me from things that were not positive. They were either critical of my skating or the dresses I was wearing. My mom was this force to be reckoned with. She made sure I was protected.”

For the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, Michelle has partnered with P&G to help encourage people all over the world to see each other through a mom’s eyes and embrace the idea of Love Over Bias.

Imagine if the world could see what a mom sees. #LoveOverBias

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