Turin, Italy — Michelle Kwan's disappointments usually start when it's time to hand out Olympic medals.
This time, she might be out before she even skates.
Kwan left open the possibility of withdrawing from the Turin Olympics after a sore groin forced her to cut short her first practice Saturday.
"I really have to pay attention to how I am feeling these days," said Kwan, who missed the U.S. nationals last month because of a groin injury. "It is important that I'm in touch with it right now and being serious about it and how I'm skating and feeling.
"Dropping out, it's not something I want to do," she said, "but I have to listen to what my feelings are."
Kwan is a five-time world and nine-time U.S. champion, and no one has defined figure skating more in the past decade. The only place she's faltered is at the Olympics. She went to Nagano and Salt Lake City as the favorite and came home with a silver (1998) and bronze (2002).
Now 25, she hung around the past four years for one more shot at that elusive gold medal. But her hopes seem to be fading fast.
She missed the Grand Prix season because of a hip injury, then needed a medical bye onto the Turin team because of a pulled groin. She looked sharp during the Jan. 27 monitoring session that solidified her spot on the team, doing back-to-back run-throughs of her long and short programs.
But the long plane ride to Italy, followed by marching in the opening ceremony, apparently took a toll. By the time she returned to the Olympic village, she was starting to hurt. When she woke up Saturday morning, it wasn't any better.
"I was debating whether or not to rest today," she said. "I just wanted to get out, get my legs under me and feel the ice. Sometimes you don't need to do run-throughs."
But she didn't do much of anything else, either.
Most of the practice was spent on footwork. At one point, Kwan did her footwork from her free skate, and team leader Roger Glenn and U.S. judge Charlie Cyr seemed to be checking the levels of difficulty.
Her first jump, a smooth triple toe loop, didn't come until almost 14 minutes into the workout. She did a single flip, landed on two feet on her first triple flip, and fell hard on her next attempt at the jump. Kwan also cut another try into a double flip.
At times, she looked downright despondent. With coach Rafael Arutunian still in transit, Glenn was seen holding Kwan's hand or arm several times, as if to comfort her.
And her news conference an hour later did nothing to dispel the sense of gloom surrounding one of the most visible faces of these games.
"Waking up stiff, it's like, 'Is it coming back? What's going on?'" she said. "At practice this morning, I didn't have my coach, I didn't have feedback, I didn't have anything. So I was just going out and trying to push through it."
It's not uncommon for skaters to struggle in a practice. Fellow American Kimmie Meissner fell on several of her jumps in the same session Saturday and looked sloppy.
But Kwan rarely is rattled. When a streaker made his way onto the ice at the 2004 world championships in Dortmund, Germany, she barely flinched, leaving the ice briefly and then returning to skate an impressive free program.
She almost never leaves practice early, either. Though she didn't have her program music at the rink, she's done plenty of run-throughs without it. On Saturday, she cut out 15 minutes early.
"This morning I was just going to skate around and not put pressure on myself," she said.
Still, it was unexpected - and quite unlike the woman whose preparation is so old school it's almost an art form.
To see her appear so unsure of herself immediately raised questions of whether she'll even be around when the women's event begins Feb. 21.