Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Thursday named figure skating champion Michelle Kwan as a U.S. public diplomacy envoy. The daughter of Chinese immigrants to the United States, Kwan is expected to visit China and other Asian countries early next year on the first mission of her non-salaried goodwill post.

The Secretary of State met Michelle Kwan for the first time last April when they both attended a White House dinner for visiting Chinese President Hu Jintao.

She is now appointing the 26-year-old Chinese-American skating champion as the first American Public Diplomacy Envoy, an unpaid goodwill post aimed at fostering understanding of U.S. society and democratic principles among young people abroad.

The most decorated figure skater in U.S. history, Kwan won an unprecedented 43 figure skating titles including five world championships, nine U.S, championships, and two Olympic medals.

After an injury forced her out of the Olympics last winter, Kwan is taking a year off from her skating career and is now a full-time student at the University of Denver.

At a State Department press event, Secretary Rice said the personal story of Kwan - who began representing the United States at international skating events at the age of 12 - is an inspiring and deeply American one.

Rice noted she had also been a figure skater - though a much less successful one - and understands the poise and perseverance that it takes to succeed in the grueling sport. "As a competitive figure skater, you have to handle constant performance appraisals, never-ending media scrutiny, and the judgment of the international community. Come to think of it, figure skating was good preparation for my current job. And since Michelle is currently attending the University of Denver, my alma mater, and studying political science and international relations as I did, she is on her way, I'm sure to being Secretary of State one day as well," she said.

Kwan, who already has public relations work experience as a spokeswoman for the giant Walt Disney entertainment company, said she sees her impending diplomatic role as non-political but rather one in which she can be a personal example for young people abroad:

"I look forward to sharing my experience, my story, and the lessons I've learned in competition; things like dedication, setting goals and how to go about achieving them, the importance of teamwork, the reality of life. It's not always smooth sailing, and sometimes you have to pick yourself up and keep on going. I believe these are universal concepts and I hope people can learn from my experiences and apply it to their lives," she said.

Kwan will work for U.S. Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy Karen Hughes, who said she hopes to recruit other sports figures since sports are, as she put it, a common language that can bring people together despite differences of region, race and religion.

Hughes said the need to foster a sense of common values between Americans and others abroad is especially acute now, since she said many in the current generation of young people are being exposed to hate and propaganda directed against the United States.