Michelle Kwan listened to her body, and it told her no.
And if her sore groin continues to hamper her as much as it did Saturday, when she was driven to the verge of tears before she curtailed her first Olympic practice session, the five-time world figure skating champion said she would consider withdrawing from the Turin Games.
"Dropping out is not something I want to do, but I have to listen to what my feelings are," she said after falling hard on a triple flip and botching two other flip attempts during a training session at the Torino Palaghiaccio. She didn't do a run-through of her "Totentanz" short program and instead performed a few jumps and footwork sequences. The only jump she landed cleanly was a triple toe loop.
"That's what's so frustrating about having an injury," she added. "It's not something that just goes away.
"Physically, if I'm not able to skate, I would give my spot up."
The first alternate is Emily Hughes of Great Neck, L.I., the third-place finisher at last month's U.S. championships and younger sister of 2002 gold medalist Sarah Hughes. In an odd twist, Kwan was in a similar situation in 1994, when Nancy Kerrigan was struck on the knee and withdrew from the national championships but was given a medical bye onto the Olympic team after she proved her readiness.
Kwan had finished second to Tonya Harding but was designated an alternate behind Kerrigan and Harding. Kwan traveled to Lillehammer and practiced but did not compete.
If Hughes were to ask for advice, Kwan said she'd tell the 16-year-old to continue training hard. "As an alternate, you have to be 100 percent prepared," Kwan said during a news conference.
Entries in the Olympic figure skating competition can be changed until the draw begins for the skating order in the short program. However, the International Olympic Committee would have to agree that extraordinary circumstances existed.
Should Kwan withdraw close to the Feb. 21 start of the women's competition -- or should an injury befall either of her teammates, Sasha Cohen of Corona del Mar, Calif., and Kimmie Meissner of Bel Air, Md. -- the U.S. team can request a replacement. If the request is denied, the U.S. team would lose a spot.
"Mentally, it's been a challenge," Kwan said of her physical woes. "Physically, I wish I could practice more."
Kwan, the silver medalist at Nagano and bronze medalist at Salt Lake City, pulled her right groin muscle in mid-December, shortly after she'd recovered from a hip injury. Because she couldn't compete at the national championships and earn a Turin berth, she petitioned U.S. Figure Skating for a medical bye.
The federation agreed to her request with the condition that she demonstrate to a five-judge panel that she could reach an elite level in the subsequent weeks. The panel gathered at the East West Ice Palace in Artesia, Calif., on Jan. 27 and unanimously confirmed her Olympic spot after she performed her long and short programs with only a few minutes' rest in between, and displayed spins and spirals that would earn high marks under the new scoring system.