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Saturday, January 18
Updated: January 19, 3:32 AM ET
Kwan adds another title to impressive run

Associated Press

DALLAS -- Her arms held wide, gathering in all the applause, the adoration -- the love -- Michelle Kwan was in the perfect place after the perfect performance.

Olympic disappointment was a forgotten memory. The ''old lady'' of skating erased all the skepticism about her decision to stick around.

Sarah Hughes
Sarah Hughes skated well, but on this night could not match Michelle Kwan.

And she did it as only Kwan can, winning her sixth consecutive national title and seventh overall Saturday night with the style and grace that has defined her illustrious career.

''Besides my friends and my family, I think that is the next best thing, just being out there,'' the 22-year-old Kwan said. ''It's just so intense, it's incredible. It's an incredible feeling. It's why it's hard for skaters to turn professional.

''It's just like the movies. It's your own movie.''

Not all of her movies have had happy endings. Kwan does not own Olympic gold, but should that really matter, the way she keeps piling up U.S. Figure Skating Championships?

''It's overwhelming sometimes, the moment,'' Kwan said, admitting she had to wipe away tears after the flawless routine that earned one 6.0 for artistry as she swept the nine-judge panel. ''You prepare for so long, every day. Every day you just hope to skate as well as I did out there.''

Only one of the sport's legends, Maribel Vinson, has more U.S. championships, with nine. Kwan now has as many titles as any U.S. man, and she also owns four world crowns.

She will go after her fifth in Washington in March. So even with Olympic gold lacking -- Kwan owns a silver and a bronze -- there is no arguing her dominance on ice.

''I have to pat myself on the back,'' she said jokingly. ''I just have a lot of people to thank for it.''

The 6.0 was her 28th perfect mark at nationals, and she had six 5.9s. Her program, to ''Aranjuez,'' was spotless, including six triple jumps that were so smooth they seemed automatic.

Just like the way she collects national titles.

Olympic champion Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen, the most successful skater on the Grand Prix circuit this season, were second and third, and made the U.S. team for the world championships.

Hughes, in her first significant event of the season, moved up from third to second with a flowing routine that featured five triple jumps and a huge sigh of relief when she was done. Hughes was the first American woman to win Olympic gold and then skate at the next national championships.

''Of course I'm not 100 percent pleased, because I can do a lot better,'' Hughes said. ''It's hard for me to look at the fact that I can't always be perfect.

''Especially coming off of Salt Lake.''

Hughes was somewhat conservative, passing on triple-triple combinations, trying to remain clean and qualify for worlds. She received eight second-place votes to pass Cohen.

''It is not really my full potential,'' said the 17-year-old Hughes, who recently was accepted at Harvard. ''I know I can do a lot better and be better for worlds.''

Cohen, the most successful skater this season with three victories, two on the Grand Prix circuit, fell once, two-footed other jumps and slipped to third. It was reminiscent of her shaky showing in the free skate at the Olympics, when she dropped from third to fourth.

''I can't give you an answer why I wasn't up for a performance I wanted,'' she said. ''Now I've got to go home, take this with me and not let it happen again.''

Kwan, who competed only at Skate America -- naturally, she won -- this season, won U.S. championships in 1996, and from '98 through Saturday. She was second to Tara Lipinski in 1997.

It is her misfortune that many people concentrate on her Olympic shortcomings, when she finished second to Lipinski in 1998 and third behind Hughes and Russia's Irina Slutskaya last year, instead of her almost unparalleled success elsewhere. After she was runner-up to Slutskaya at the 2002 worlds, few expected Kwan to remain Olympic-eligible.

Yet here she is, still dominating the Americans.

''Tonight, I don't know how to explain it, it felt so alive, the audience was alive, the arena was just going to explode,'' Kwan said. ''So was I, inside.''

Every time Kwan has experienced disappointment in her elite-level career, which began at age 13 with her first nationals in 1993, she has stormed back. She was favored to win her first U.S. title in 1995 but lost to Nicole Bobek. The next year, Kwan won nationals and worlds for the first time.

When Lipinski dominated in '97, Kwan came right back to win nationals and worlds the next season. Sure, Lipinski beat her at the Nagano Games, but while Lipinski headed to the pros, Kwan kept on going.

She was ill when she lost the world crown in 1999 to Russia's Maria Butyrskaya, so Kwan simply climbed right back to the top of the world in 2000. And won again in '01.

Now, on the heels of her big defeats last year, she's taken charge again.

''Seven times. Lucky No. 7,'' Kwan said with a laugh. ''I was born on July 7. That's all I thought of, 'Seven would be nice.' Seven is my good number.

''But eight would be nice, too.''

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