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Fleming reflects on Michelle Kwan


ABC Sports began following Peggy Fleming's career at the 1964 Innsbruck Olympics, where she finished sixth at her first international competition. Three years later, Fleming was named "ABC's Wide World of Sports Athlete of the Year" just prior to her gold-medal performance at the 1968 Olympics, which was also covered by ABC Sports. In an excerpt from an interview conducted for the 40th Anniversary of Wide World, Fleming shares her thoughts on current superstar Michelle Kwan.

ABC Sports
How did it feel in the building during the 1998 nationals, when Michelle stepped out onto the ice? Everyone knew what she was going through, obviously, through print media and television. How did it feel to you, the atmosphere in the building when she stepped out there to skate?

Fleming
When she stepped out there for the '98 nationals I felt such tension in the crowd and I was nervous for her. She really wasn't sure how strong her foot really was. And you just never know, by doing a certain jump, you could jar it and injure it again. She just went out there with such determination and focus that nothing phased her, and she went out and skated a brilliant performance.

ABC Sports
What was your strongest memory of her free skate?

Fleming
My favorite free skate of Michelle Kwan's was the '98 nationals, because she really had a beautiful program to "Lyric Angelica," and it was to show the joy of skating. Michelle really has such soul when she skates. You can't hide anything when it comes to figure skating. Your personality comes out in your skating, and I think Michelle had that package that year: of the music, the costume and the quality the performance. I really think that she was really herself, and, she was wonderful.

ABC Sports
What did that title mean for her reputation as a skater?

Fleming
Once she got that title back in '98 I felt like everyone was looking at her differently, that she really proved that she can, go out and perform under extraordinary conditions. She had an injury but she still pushed through and focused and she pulled off a beautiful performance. That's a good lesson to learn for, for any of us. When we have something distracting us in life, if we can focus and get the job done, then you can collapse. But I think she has a unique way of dealing with different crises that she can just focus and get the job done.

ABC Sports
The 2000 World Championships in Nice: Talk about what that was like and her position entering the free skate.

Fleming
Well, it was really tough at the 2000 World Championships in Nice for Michelle. She was in third place after the short program and she really had to prove herself. But I remember going to one of the practices there and I saw something in her eyes. I saw a determination that I thought, "There is no way she is gonna lose this title. She is going after it." And I felt a new aggressiveness to her skating, that she could do it. I could just see it in every practice. And she went out there and just skated a beautiful performance with lots of feeling and lots of fight and drive. She deserved to win.

ABC Sports
She hadn't landed the triple-triple combination all season. And that was the world championship. She was first to skate, and first to skate is not a good position for her, historically. Can you set the scene for her free skate, knowing she knows Irina Slutskaya, a month or two ago before that, had done triple-triples all over the place at the Grand Prix finals and won. So once again, not only did Tara Lipinski prove Michelle could be beaten, but here Irina Slutskaya is nipping at her heels and has just won a major competition.

Fleming
I think it was real tough for Michelle. She had been beaten at the Grand Prix final a few months earlier before the world championships. I think Michelle felt like she really had to do that combination. The pressure was really on her to accomplish that, and she really had to push herself. She really has a unique way of, of handling herself under those circumstances that she doesn't go out there necessarily to beat a certain person but she goes out there, and focuses on what she knows she can do, and accomplishes it. She's an amazing athlete because mentally, and athletically, she is so focused and strong.

ABC Sports
The night she stepped out on the ice, knowing that she had had the performance of her lifetime, she was first to skate. What were your thoughts? And how did it feel in the building for you as the commentator, watching her skate?

Fleming
Well, Michelle Kwan, you know, skated before Slutskaya, she was the first to skate out of the warm-up. And that's a tough position to be in, because usually the judges hold back on their marks a bit. And she knew she had to go out there and have the skate of her life. But I could tell the minute she stepped on the ice there was something in her eyes, and there was a determination that was different. And I knew she was gonna do it. She didn't lose it through the whole routine. She went out and accomplished the triple-triple combination, and she skated with a lot of joy -- a wonderful package. Irina Slutskaya can't touch her when she skates like that.

ABC Sports
How was this year different from last year for her?

Fleming
At the worlds this year in Vancouver, people were doubting her again. But she is a different kind of competitor. You never can underestimate Michelle Kwan, because she knows how to pull out all kinds of things when the going gets tough. And, you know, the boot problem that she had in the qualifying, was just amazing. I have never, ever seen that happen to a skater, having the heel of the skate come apart from the boot.

Usually, a blade can come off of the heel, but not the actual heel coming off of the boot. She had about two minutes to be able to kind of feel the boot out. To go off after the warm-up and get that fixed and to come out, not knowing if the heel was really gonna stick when she did some of these difficult jumps, but to go out and, you know, warm up a little bit and skate a perfect long program, I was blown away with her concentration and her focus, and she just did not let that phase her.

Most skaters would've been unnerved. But she was so solid and focused. That was the first step in her winning this world championship.

ABC Sports
It doesn't seem like you can get much better than that, I know she wants that Olympic gold. But why do you think every year, we constantly doubt her?

Fleming
I don't know why the critics keep doubting her every year. She's four-time world champion, and going into the Olympics, I don't know if they're gonna continue to doubt her. We cannot put anything past Michelle Kwan. She's judged by a different standard than any other skater, and she set that standard herself. She knows that, and she's at peace with that, and she really does try to reinvent herself every year, because she has to.

I'm sure that next year she's gonna put a lot of thought into the programs that she will be doing at the Olympic Games. And she has a wonderful history to go back on.

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