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Kwan’s icebreakers

Wed., June 27, 2007

A few days after taking her last final, Michelle Kwan was on a plane for a weeklong diplomatic mission in Russia. Then there was a quick trip to Florida for a scholarship dinner.

Now she’s finally back home in Los Angeles – just in time for summer school.

“I wake up and I’m like, ‘Where am I?’ ” Kwan said Tuesday. “I can’t just lay out on the beach all summer. I get bored.”

More than a year after leaving the Turin Olympics in tears, a groin injury derailing her quest for that elusive gold medal, the nine-time U.S. and five-time world champion hasn’t ruled out a comeback.

But she’s not putting her life on hold while she decides what she wants to do, either.

Kwan, who turns 27 next month, just finished her first year at the University of Denver, where she’s majoring in political science. She has an off-campus apartment, friends who don’t know a lutz from a loop, and entire weekends free to do fun stuff, such as snowboarding.

“I don’t feel any different. But the focus, the priorities are a little different because it used to be the core was skating,” she said. “Now I have time to really get to know people in Denver, my classmates, my friends. Spending time going snowboarding, which wouldn’t have even existed if I skated.

“To be able to do stuff like that is really neat.”

There’s also her budding career as a diplomat. Kwan was at a White House dinner for Chinese President Hu Jintao last year when she mentioned to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice that she was studying political science at Denver. Rice, who earned her Ph.D. at Denver, later asked if she’d like some real-world experience.

As a “Public Diplomacy Envoy,” Kwan’s task is to try to improve the United States’ image abroad by sharing her experiences as a skater. She made her first trip, to China, in January, and spent a week in Russia, traveling to Moscow, Volgograd and Elista.

Kwan has no illusions that her trips will bring about world peace or an end to the nuclear standoff with North Korea.

The teenagers she met in Russia wanted to know if she lived in New York or Hollywood, and whether she ran into celebrities wherever she went.

Others asked if Americans thought bears roamed the streets in Russia.

But the surest way to solve differences in the world is to remind people of their similarities.

“I’m not going to be talking about certain issues I have no understanding of and I can’t relate to,” Kwan said. “But being able to have this exchange … that open communication is the most vital thing.”


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