- SKATING - Kwan rediscovers confidence with fourth world title

Tuesday, March 27
Kwan rediscovers confidence with fourth world title

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – There were many times over this long, difficult year that Michelle Kwan doubted herself.

She was beaten twice by Irina Slutskaya. She had to listen to the increasing clamor of critics who said she no longer had the technical tricks to stay on top. She could practically feel the blades of Sarah Hughes and the other upstarts on her heels.
Michelle Kwan
Michelle Kwan has become the favorite heading into the 2002 Olympics after winning her fourth world title.

All this, and the Salt Lake Olympics only 11 months away.

"I didn't believe in myself," Kwan admitted. "I was sort of lost and didn't know what I was doing. The last month I understood this was my goal.

"I've had a roller-coaster year and to end like this, it's truly amazing."

Amazing, indeed. Kwan won her fourth title at the World Figure Skating Championships on Saturday, solidly establishing herself as the woman to beat in Salt Lake.

The last four women who won the world title the year before the games went on to win Olympic gold, too.

"I thought about that," Kwan said. "You can't go by what happens in the history books. Next year is something different. ... Hopefully, I don't move at all and keep going right on through the Olympics."

But just as she went to the Nagano Olympics knowing Tara Lipinski would be her rival for gold, Kwan will have to contend with Slutskaya next year. The two are close friends off the ice, but rivals on it.

It's Slutskaya who's been pushing the technical bar and causing people to criticize Kwan for not keeping up. On Saturday night, Slutskaya did a triple salchow-triple loop-double toe combination, and had six clean triples.

But she had two other sloppy landings and her presentation, usually a strong point, lacked flash. That was enough to leave her with the silver medal.

"I did everything I could, and the judges made their decision," Slutskaya said. "I have to take my heart into my hands and encourage myself."

And Slutskaya won't be the only one Kwan will have to worry about next season. Fellow American Hughes might be just 15, but she established herself as a serious medal contender by winning bronze at worlds and finishing no worse than third in any competition this year.

"I don't think it's quite the pressure Michelle or Irina are feeling, because they've really been battling," said Robin Wagner, Hughes' longtime coach. "It's a nice place to be. You can taste it, but she can just attend to her work."

Like Kwan, Yevgeny Plushchenko hopes the momentum from his world title will carry him to Salt Lake gold. Unlike Kwan, he didn't have to struggle this season.

The 18-year-old Russian has won all but one of the significant competitions he's been in over the past two years. And that one loss, a fourth-place finish at worlds last year, made him so mentally tough he was untouchable this year.

"This is my year," he said. "I win everything."

His biggest competition will come from countryman Alexei Yagudin, who finished a distant second this week. Hobbled by a foot injury, Yagudin was never a threat to Plushchenko.

In fact, he was nearly beaten by Todd Eldredge, the five-time U.S. champion who was at worlds for the first time since 1998 after taking the last two years off from Olympic-level skating.

Eldredge, the 1996 world champion, came here hoping only to get the United States a third spot for Salt Lake. He and Timothy Goebel managed that with a 3-4 finish, and Eldredge went home with an unexpected souvenir.

"It's amazing, and a lot more than I thought I would achieve this year," said the 29-year-old Eldredge, who became the oldest man to win a world medal since 1931.

"Not bad for 10 years after my first medal."

While the American men and women leave here in good shape for next year, the pairs and ice dance teams have a lot of ground to make up. Jamie Sale and David Pelletier of Canada won the gold medal in pairs, beating two-time world champions Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze.

Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman, the top U.S. pair, finished seventh, the same spot they were in last year.

In ice dance, Barbara Fusar Poli and Maurizio Margaglio gave Italy its first world title. Marina Anissina and Gwendal Peizerat, last year's champions, were second.

Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev, three-time U.S. champions in ice dance, were ninth, dropping a spot from last year.

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Battle lines drawn for 2002 Olympics

Karma goes America's way at Worlds

Kwan the Olympic favorite after winning world title

Plushchenko wins first World Championship

Canadians Jamie Sale and David Pelletier win Pairs

Italians win world title in ice dance

Change brings Nikodinov success

Final results from the World Championships

 Michelle Kwan lands a triple toe/triple toe combination on her way to a gold medal.
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 Irina Slutskaya stumbles with a combination and opens the door for Michelle Kwan.
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 ABC's Melissa Stark sits down with Michelle Kwan and her coach Frank Carroll after Kwan captured the World Championship.
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