Michelle Kwan Recalls 'Living the American Dream' at Olympics, Talks Combating Rise of Anti-Asian Hate
PEOPLE catches up with Michelle Kwan as she premieres her new YouTube Originals special Recipe for Change
PEOPLE recently caught up with the two-time Olympic medalist, 40, ahead of the premiere of her new YouTube Originals special Recipe for Change, which celebrates Asian and Pacific Islander (API) culture during a time when anti-Asian hate crimes in America are rising.
Kwan, 40, recalls "living the American dream" as a child of Chinese immigrants, when she competed in the 1998 and 2002 Winter Olympics, telling PEOPLE, "Getting the opportunity and having the honor to represent the country was something else. ... There was nothing like it," also noting the "privilege" she felt in competing for Team USA, even down to the garb she wore that bore the name of her country.
"Seeing the athletes now and seeing how much blood, sweat and tears goes into it, it's going to be fun to cheer on our athletes at the Olympics this time around," Kwan says.
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Before her retirement in 2006, Kwan took home a silver medal at the 1998 Games and a bronze at the 2002 Games.
The advice she has for athletes competing in this year's Summer Olympics, as well as the 2022 Winter Olympics? "Just breathe."
"It happens so quickly," Kwan says. "You plan for this for so many years, and you're there and in a blink of an eye it's gone. I would say savor it, enjoy all the experiences and make sure you don't get distracted, because there's a lot of distractions when you're competing."
As for whom she's most excited to see go for gold this summer, Kwan says she's cheering on her pal Allyson Felix. "And this time around as a mom, and she's talked about her journey and how amazing it is," she says.
"[And] Simone Biles, of course," Kwan adds. "She's just the most dominant athlete, period. Not female athlete — dominant athlete. I think in history books, you'll see Simone Biles, and it's incredible to see what she does."
These days, Kwan is still skating — though "not very much and definitely not for the public," she jokes — and she is also into rollerblading, with a pair of trusty roller-hockey skates she has had for a whopping 22 years.
She's also honing in on important initiatives like Recipe for Change, which she's hosting alongside Hasan Minhaj and Eugene Lee Yang as they bring people together to "talk about shared experiences" they've had.
The food-focused special will include dinner guests who are part of the API community like Olivia Munn, Lisa Ling, BD Wong, Margaret Cho, Ross Butler and Auli'i Cravalho, as well as allies like Brandon Flynn and Sophia Bush.
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Kwan remembers her own father telling her about "hurtful" experiences he had — like how people would yell "Go back where you came from" to him after he arrived in the U.S. as a young man, and being called "Chinaman."
"Some [experiences] were tough to talk about [and] really hard and awful to hear sometimes," Kwan says. "One guest talked about [a] recent event that happened [with] being spat on, and having to answer her daughter's question [of], 'Well, what was that all about?' Can you imagine telling your child, 'I think they spit on me because of the color of my skin?' "
The show came about, Kwan says, due to the importance of "asking questions and having discussions" for the sake of "understanding and being a little bit curious." She adds of the thought process, "How do we address these issues? How do we talk about it? First, it's through food, because food is always a great way to bring people together."
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