Michelle Kwan chose school over skating.
The nine-time U.S. champion announced Friday she will not return to competitive skating in hopes of making the Vancouver Olympics. Instead, she will begin classes for a master’s degree in international affairs at Tufts University. Kwan, who recently graduated from the University of Denver, has already made several trips as a public diplomacy envoy for the State Department.
Kwan said in March she wasn’t sure if she wanted to try for a third Olympics. She did, however, want to give herself the option, and had until September to enter qualifying events for the 2010 national championships in Spokane in January. Nationals also serve as the Olympic trials.
“Skating will always be a part of me,” said Kwan, who remains one of the most popular skaters in the world. “But in the bigger picture of my life, I have always wanted to find a career that will allow me to make a positive contribution and difference in the world.
“Representing the United States as an American public diplomacy envoy the past three years has been very rewarding, and I want to do more. Furthering my education will bring me closer to that goal, and I don’t want to wait any longer to continue the journey.”
The 29-year-old Kwan was the gold standard of her generation, her grace, beauty and smile making her a favorite of fans and sponsors alike. She’s the most decorated skater the United States has had. In addition to her silver medal from the Nagano Olympics in 1998 and a bronze from Salt Lake City in 2002, she won five world titles.
But Kwan hasn’t competed since an injury forced her to withdraw from the Turin Olympics after her first practice; she eventually needed hip surgery.
While Kwan never announced her retirement — the statement Friday from U.S. Figure Skating made no mention of that, saying only that she won’t compete in 2009-10 — she seemed to be moving into the next phase of her life.
In 2006, the State Department appointed her to a position in which she talks with youngsters about leadership and social and educational issues. This year, she was named to the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports. She also has done some broadcasting, working for NBC at the world championships in March.
Still, Kwan has been working out for most of the year, fueling speculation she might join old rival Sasha Cohen in a comeback for Vancouver. When it was announced she would appear with world champion Kim Yu-na at an ice show in South Korea next month — her first in front of an audience in three years — that only added to the buzz.