True Marco, the judges' feedback (and rampant politics) have a significant influence. Not so sure about the crack, altho' sometimes it seems as if they might be imbibing something illegal Disclaimer: I don't hate all judges; some do try hard to do their job and maintain their poker faces while at it.
Everyone's perceptions may have some validity. But honestly, Kelvster, MK has indicated many times that she would have continued skating beyond 1998, no question. How things turned out are how they turned out, and maybe there's an important lesson that many of us miss when we look at Michelle's life and career.
All the "what ifs" and "should have dones" are just that. By MK having troubles at Nats in '97, she went into Worlds '97 with the judges and her competitors, not to mention the commentators perhaps believing she was more vulnerable than she turned out to be. Politics and politiking, absolutely! Michelle not taking a breath, I don't know that. Falling out of the 3lutz, yes, that was caught on tape. Losing Worlds '97 to an immature, but competent Lipinski, I thought it should have been otherwise then and now. But things are what they are. TPTB seemed to want to reward Lipinski rather than Kwan (and at that time, there wasn't a great deal of competition from the international ladies). Debate will always be a part of fs, and can be fun and/or frustrating.
The Olympics 1998 is another story entirely that has been debated endlessly. The results were extremely close, and controversial, which TPTB tried to downplay at the time. In any case, in 1998, despite being marveled over and envied for her consistency, MK was not yet being talked about as a legend. That discussion didn't occur until she continued to dominate post-1998, turning silver into gold and pushing herself to extraordinary heights, taking her fans along with her and bringing new fans to the sport. In the process, MK began to transcend figure skating, and inspired many (including her competitors) to set and achieve goals in skating, and in many other areas of endeavor.
Let's also give Slutskaya her due, as I'm certain MK does. Slute may not have had MK's grace and consistency (although she showed a level of grace and lyricism one season --2000-2001 I think, shortly after her marriage, but she eventually abandoned that style in favor of her more natural athletic approach). During the 1999 - 2003 period, I think TPTB semed to be searching for someone to rival MK and thwart her dominance, instead of realizing how MK's excellence and universal appeal might benefit the sport. I believe that politically circa 2000 - 2002 Slute (and Butryskaya in 2000, since she had won Worlds in 1999), and even Cohen were being looked upon as the contenders who might successfully rival MK. No way was Michelle politically expected to win at 2000 and 2001 Worlds -- she won because she trained hard and battled victoriously, while her competitors faltered.
I believe MK would have continued as strong had she won Olympics in 1998, but in a strange way, not winning Olympics in 1998 and 2002 somehow quickened and became an integral part of her legend, because she overcame huge disappointments and endured in a way few human beings would have been capable of -- she's not called Kwan, the Warrior Kween for nuthin' (no matter if I just coined that particular moniker)
Thanks for the clips everyone!
ETA: Re the whole "empty programmes" critique, yes it seems that Kwan decided to focus more on the jumps, speed and power that the judges apparently preferred to reward rather than intricate choreo and unusual music ... and then along came the 2002 scandal and the enforcement of CoP. Fans suffered, and many Kwan fans lament (the lack of further development and recognition of MM, and MK's growth more along those lines) and non-Kwan fans focus on criticizing and nitpicking... Still, 2004 Nats LP is a part of Kwan's legend, and 2005 Spartacus sp, should be: