|Tuesday, October 23
Updated: January 8, 12:41 PM ET
Kwan says she's going to direct her own career
Less than four months before the Salt Lake City Olympics, Michelle Kwan is taking the biggest gamble of her career.
Kwan, the reigning world champion and a favorite to win gold in Salt Lake, announced Tuesday that she's split with longtime coach Frank Carroll. She plans to coach herself for now, though she didn't rule out working with someone in the future.
"I think the person that knows best is me," Kwan said. "That's why I've made this decision."
But the split is a huge risk, coming so close to the Olympics. No other skater has made so drastic a move with such a crucial competition looming, and Kwan's gamble could end up costing her the gold medal.
"I love Frank and I have nothing against him. He's a great coach," Kwan said on a conference call from Colorado Springs, Colo., where she'll compete at Skate America later this week. "But I feel like I need to take care of my skating now.
"He understands that and he supports me, I think that's the most important thing."
The move caught Carroll by surprise. He said he knew Kwan was trying to sort through some things, but he had no idea this was coming when the two sat down last Friday.
"The only real explanation I've gotten is that she really has a strong, strong feeling that she needs to do this by herself," Carroll said. "That she has to be strong enough to get out there and lay it on the line without depending on me or depending on her father. That if she is to succeed, she has to be strong enough to do it by herself."
The announcement was stunning not only for its timing, but because of the relationship. While some skaters change coaches as often as they change their blades, Kwan and Carroll were a model of stability.
The two had worked together since 1992, when Kwan was an up-and-coming junior. Now 21, she's grown up with him, going from a shy, tiny little girl to a confident woman who's one of the most popular athletes in the world.
The two are so close they seem to know what the other is thinking without any words being said. At news conferences, they often start talking at the same time, saying the exact same thing. At the Nagano Olympics, they showed up for a postpractice news conference one day wearing matching outfits.
Their partnership was incredibly successful, with Kwan winning four world titles, five U.S. championships and the 1998 Olympic silver medal.
Her battle with Irina Slutskaya for the gold medal is sure to be one of the top stories of the Salt Lake Games.
"It must be earth-breaking news, but for me, at this moment, I think it's the right decision," Kwan said. "It may be very close to the Olympics, but I think you have to believe and stick to your guns."
Carroll wished Kwan well.
"I do desperately want her to win and I think she's the best skater in the world and I think it would be a shame if she doesn't win," Carroll said. "I think it would be presumptive of me to say without me she can't win. I think that she is the best."
There was no fight, no huge blowup, said Kwan, who was somber as she spoke. She couldn't really even explain why the relationship with Carroll broke down, except to say they had philosophical differences. It didn't have anything to do with her going to school part-time at UCLA, she added.
"In any relationship, it evolves," she said. "When I was younger, the coach was pretty much the skater. You did whatever he said. As I've gotten older, I've gotten more independent and I think for myself. That's the way it should be. ... You have your differences in the way you should go about things, and that's what Frank and I ran into."
Kwan said both she and Carroll are hardheaded and emotional, and that can cause clashes. One of the most famous was when she was 11 and wanted to take her senior-level test. Carroll said no, thinking she wasn't ready.
When he went out of town, Kwan she did it anyway. Carroll was furious, though he eventually softened.
But Kwan is going through some things now that only she can figure out. Since winning her fourth world title last spring, she's struggled this year. She finished a distant second to Slutskaya at the Goodwill Games, and didn't seem to have the same spark as in the past.
"I don't fully understand what's going through her head," Carroll said. "I really, really don't. If there was some way in the world I could help her with that ... I would do it."