America's Favorite Figure Skaters: Where Are They Now?
Get the scoop on years of figure skating drama and dreams PEOPLE's special issue, The Best of Olympic Figure Skating, available now on Amazon and wherever magazines are sold.
MICHELLE KWAN: THEN
After earning a spot on the 1994 U.S. Olympic team, only to be informed that she would have to relinquish her place in the wake of the attack on Nancy Kerrigan, 13-year-old Kwan responded graciously when a fit of anger would have been forgiven.
Four years later, at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, Japan, she placed second to Tara Lipinski. "I didn't lose the gold, I won the silver," she said, again demonstrating grace on and off the ice. Kwan's career highlights also include five world and nine U.S. championships, an Olympic bronze medal in 2002 and a style on ice that sometimes moved spectators to tears and judges to award perfect 6.0 scores.
MICHELLE KWAN: NOW
Retired since 2006, Kwan, now 37, has a master's degree in international relations and has served as a U.S. State Department adviser and on Hillary Clinton's 2016 campaign staff. As a board member of the Special Olympics, she is currently involved in planning the group's 2019 World Games in Abu Dhabi. And she'll be in PyeongChang for sure: "I'll be cheering on the athletes. To me it's very personal. It's about representing your country. It's a whole lotta love."
SASHA COHEN: THEN
When she hung up her competitive skates after failing in a comeback attempt to make the Olympic team for the third time in 2010, Cohen faced a great unknown. "I missed that crystal-clear sense of purpose and direction," she said. "Once you leave the world of an elite athlete, that clarity is hard to find."
SASHA COHEN: NOW
Cohen did some soul-searching and experimenting (including acting forays on shows like CSI:NY) before completing a degree in political science at Columbia University in 2016 and taking a job with Morgan Stanley, where she studies disruptive trends in investment markets.
"I'm most happy when I feel deeply engaged in the work I'm doing," said Cohen, now 33. As a skater she knows something about shaking things up. An elegant stylist (her coach once said she was incapable of putting her body into an ugly position), she has a contortionist's talent for squeezing into shapes "you wouldn't wish on a squid," as sportswriter E.M. Swift once put it.
Cohen was the face of a wave of "baby ballerinas" in skating, her petite frame and flexibility making its mark on the sport. But twice her Olympic hopes were crushed by tumbles. All cried out after she had to settle for silver in Turin in 2006, she adopted a Zen-like philosophy. "Ice," she told reporters, "is slippery."
DEBI THOMAS: THEN
As a 5-year-old in San Jose, California, Thomas had high ambitions: She wanted to learn to skate, win a medal in the Olympics and become a physician. "I used to make my mom buy me a doctor's kit," she told PEOPLE in 1996. "I didn't want the nurse's kit."
In 1988, at age 21, she became the first black athlete ever to win a medal at the Winter Olympics, a bronze at the Games in Calgary. In 1997 she graduated from Northwestern University's school of medicine and began a career as an orthopedic surgeon. "Debi never decided to do something that she didn't end up doing," her mom said.
DEBI THOMAS: NOW
But the pioneering skater has ended up in a place far from the medals podium. Now 50 and living in tiny Richlands, Virginia, she filed for bankruptcy in 2014, has twice divorced and is no longer working as a doctor, according to The Washington Post. Thomas is reportedly at work on a book about her life. "Skating will always be part of my life," she told PEOPLE in 1996. Today, sadly, it is not.
KITTY & PETER CARRUTHERS: THEN
It had been 20 years since an American team medaled in pairs figure skating when the Carruthers arrived in Sarajevo in 1984. With Soviet teams dominating, the American brother and sister from Burlington, Massachusetts, ranked fourth in the world, but Kitty was injured; suffering from tendinitis, she had to lace her boot so tightly to brace her ankle that "I thought I'd bust," she said at the time.
The pair, siblings by adoption who'd skated together since they were 6 and 8, delivered a scorcher of a long program so overwhelming that they forgot protocol and wrapped each other in a bear hug for a full minute instead of waving to the judges and crowd. "It was a testament to all the struggles we had getting there," recalled Peter of that silver-medal moment.
KITTY & PETER CARRUTHERS: NOW
For years a familiar face in skating broadcasting, Peter, now 58 and married with two children, lives in California and is organizing an adult skating camp next year. "The Olympic experience enriched my life in ways that were unimaginable," he said. Kitty, now 56 and the mother of four, coaches competitive skaters in Houston. "You can't get rid of me — I love this sport," she said. The siblings reunited in 2013 for a TV skating special. "We were silly enough to skate, and we had a blast," Kitty said. Added Peter: "We realized we still had a little something."
RUDY GALINDO: THEN
Galindo started his career as the U.S. championship-winning pairs partner of fellow Californian Kristi Yamaguchi, until she decided to go solo in 1990. He soon followed suit, reemerging as the U.S. men's singles champion in 1996 with an electrifying skate, landing eight triple jumps.
RUDY GALINDO: NOW
Galindo, who never competed at the Olympics, became figure skating's first Latino and first openly gay champion and was hugely popular — and entertaining — on the professional circuit. Now 48, he is back at the same San Jose rink where he first triumphed, located three miles from the trailer home where he grew up, as a coach for 2018 Nationals hopefuls Ava Stephens and Henry Privett-Mendoza, among others.
While he skated to Swan Lake in 1996, Galindo said his charges now enjoy more leeway in their music selections. The Village People tunes he skated to as a pro might still be frowned on — "Oh no, that's not competition music!" he joked — but athletes can at least pick songs with lyrics. "Today you can skate to Adele."
NICOLE BOBEK: THEN
Bobek's road to the Olympics was bumpy — and it didn't get smoother from there. As a young skater, she went through eight coaches in as many years, earning a reputation for a lack of discipline.
But when she wasn't sneaking smokes or blowing off practice, she had an irresistible effervescence: "She lights up the building like nobody else," Scott Hamilton once said. Along with Tara Lipinski and Michelle Kwan, Bobek was part of a power trio many hoped would sweep the medals in 1998, but a bumbling short program left Bobek in 17th place. For a time she found success as a pro, but in 2009 she was arrested for distributing meth, and her gaunt, scruffy mug shot was unrecognizable as the former Olympian.
NICOLE BOBEK: NOW
Given probation and a second chance, Bobek, now 40, cleaned up, found a new passion for circus performing (in a 2015 Nancy Kerrigan skating show, she did a hoop routine on ice) and last year married a fellow circus performer.
BRIAN ORSER: THEN
It may not have been quite as sweet as feeling gold around his own neck, but when coach Orser watched his student, South Korea's Yuna Kim, take top honors in women's skating at the 2010 Olympics, there was, he said, "satisfaction . . . and closure."
Decades after the former world champion was bested by Brian Boitano in their famed battle in Calgary, the Canadian skater found a silver lining to that loss. "There's nothing I wanted more than to win the Olympics," said Orser, who spent the 10 years after his defeat dogged by disappointment. "But the path I've chosen as a coach is perhaps because I didn't win."
BRIAN ORSER: NOW
After touring as a professional for 17 years, "spending more money than I should have," Orser had realized "I've got to get a big-boy job" when a coaching opportunity came his way. Now 56, he struck gold again in 2014, leading Japanese men's skater Yuzuru Hanyu to Olympic victory. "Knock on wood, it may happen again in 2018," said Orser, who's also coaching another top contender, Spaniard Javier Fernandez. "I find the challenge in my work every day. I love my job."
TAI BABILONIA & RANDY GARDNER
She was 8 years old, he was all of 10, and both were precociously gifted ice gliders in 1968 when pioneering Culver City, California, figure-skating coach Mabel Fairbanks suggested they work as a team. There was one problem: Pairs skating requires a certain intimacy that pre-teen girls and boys find, well, gross.
"I didn't want to hold his hand," Babilonia told PEOPLE. Nevertheless in 1979 the pair became the first world champions from the U.S. since 1950, and then, in a crushing disappointment at the 1980 Olympics at Lake Placid, New York, where the two were favored to win the gold, a severe groin injury suffered by Gardner forced them to withdraw.
TAI BABILONIA & RANDY GARDNER: NOW
Today the two frequently find themselves hand in hand, as they were last year at an Ice Theatre of New York benefit celebrating the 50th anniversary of their first 1968 pairing. Both live in the Los Angeles area, where Gardner is a choreographer and coach and Babilonia, whose 22-year-old son plans to be a police officer (as was her father), sometimes coaches with Gardner and appears in his autobiographical stage show Go Figure: The Randy Gardner Story. "Through all of it," she has said of their partnership, "it's the friendship for me."
ELVIS STOJKO: THEN
He may not have been "the king," but as a figure skater, Stojko was something else: the Quad God. Stocky and with an explosive jumping ability, Stojko was the first skater to land a quadruple-triple combination.
And yet the skating establishment was slow to pay homage. The Canadian's build, his martial-arts moves, his heavy-metal costumes, his music — all were a source of scorn in a sport that embraced lean lines, classical routines and balletic style. "I was ridiculed," Stojko once said. "I was told to get in touch with my feminine side. I said, 'Buddy, I don't have a feminine side.' "
ELVIS STOJKO: NOW
Still, the powerful skater muscled his way into three world titles and back-to-back silver medals in the '94 and '98 Olympics, the latter despite suffering a groin injury so painful that he hobbled off the ice after his long program. After his competitive career, Stojko channeled his energy into an eclectic mix of pursuits including competitive kung fu, professional go-kart racing and acting (in 2014 he played Billy Flynn in the Broadway musical Chicago).
"I get bored quickly if I'm not doing a ton of stuff," he said in 2016. At 45, he's still jumping too; he recently performed with his wife, a former Mexican figure skater, in a holiday show at Busch Gardens in Williamsburg, Virginia, and will be performing with the Canadian version of Stars on Ice in April.