CLEVELAND -- When the pressure is on and you have four minutes on the ice all by yourself, it is excruciating. Even though Michelle Kwan, the defending champion, has been through it before, she still succumbed and ended up falling. In my opinion, if Sasha Cohen had not fallen at the end of her program she would have been the gold medallist. But that is a real big "if".
This is a rewarding victory for Kwan. After losing the ISU Grand Prix Final, many people questioned her commitment between skating and her college studies at UCLA. After the short program, Kwan found herself in third place in a competition that everyone thought she would be the walk-away winner. Kwan kept fighting. Kwan never gave up and you have to admire her perseverance.
The men's competition was terrific. It was billed as a showdown between Michael Weiss and Timothy Goebel and that is what played out. As you saw in our online poll, most people thought that Goebel won because he did the three quads. To the layman's eye, I can certainly understand that. I would not have had a problem if Goebel won. However, even Goebel said, "Weiss had better artistry and that he was the more mature skater". It was good to see the judges rewarding those elements of skating. When we make it simply a quad competition it takes away all of those elements. It is nice to see the judges paying a lot of attention to those other sides.
The stage is set going into the World Championships. Goebel can jump with anyone so he is automatically in the hunt. Weiss is last year's bronze medallist, so he is a name that is already recognized by the judges. He is finally getting healthy. Weiss is also going into the Worlds as the reigning U.S. Champion twice over which carries weight with the judges. I believe they will fair very well at the Worlds, but I don't know about them winning.
Evgeny Plushenko, who just won Europeans; Alexei Yagudin, the two-time World Champion; and Elvis Stojko, a three-time World Champion, are in excellent positions to capture the world title. That is difficult company for Weiss and Goebel to overcome.
In terms of the women, Kwan will enter the Worlds in a different way this year. Not only because she had to scramble at Nationals, but also because of the ISU Grand Prix Final where Irina Slutskaya did two triple-triple combinations raising the bar technically. Kwan came back from that competition saying "I've got to add more technically difficult elements to my program". Kwan will have to do that in order to enter a major international competition as the favorite.
For Kwan, this is the most satisfying and sweetest national title. With all that is going on in her life at UCLA, juggling school, skating and coming from third place, she will definitely cherish this title. |
Michelle Kwan wins fourth U.S. title
Weiss wins second U.S. figure skating title
Irina Slutskaya captures European title
Plushenko dethrones Yagudin
Nationals are full of surprises
Michelle Kwan wins Nationals (Courtesy: ABC Sports)
Michael Weiss wins Nationals (Courtesy: ABC Sports)
Lang and Tchernyshev win (Courtesy: ABC Sports)
Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman win pairs (Courtesy: ABC Sports)
Timothy Goebel earns silver (Courtesy: ABC Sports)
ABC Sports Special feature on Naomi Nari Nam and Sasha Cohen