| ||Monday, February 14|
|CLEVELAND -- The last time Michelle Kwan skated this
cautiously and with so little fire, she lost the Olympic gold medal
to Tara Lipinski. |
So she should thank some generous judges for helping her stave off the wave of young Americans on Saturday night to win her third straight U.S. Figure Skating Championships crown.
While the four-time champion skated tentatively and fell once in the free skate, her main competition - 15-year-old Sasha Cohen and 14-year-old Sarah Hughes - also had falls. But they weren't as uninspired as Kwan. They simply don't have the clout quite yet.
"I was all business today, concentrated and centered," said Kwan, who has won more U.S. championships than the likes of Kristi Yamaguchi, Rosalynn Sumners and Dorothy Hamill. "I felt strong and proud of myself at the end, because I didn't open up anything.
"I knew I wanted to go out and feel good about myself after the program. I didn't want any pity."
Instead, she got charity.
Not only from the judges, eight of whom placed her first - Hughes got the other top spot - but from her competition.
Cohen fell on a triple toe loop 3:38 into her 4-minute program. She did hit six triples, but that crash was enough for Kwan to slip through.
"I was a little tired and when I came down on the landing I just couldn't save it," Cohen said. "I am pretty happy, but I am somewhat disappointed with the last jump. I thought the marks were fair."
Hughes already had fallen on a triple salchow, but otherwise was clean and was the only woman who attempted and completed a triple-triple combination. Even so, she got the nod from only one judge on her technical mark.
"I had a little trouble at the end, that was obvious," Hughes said. "I fought through the program and tried to make every moment count. If I didn't, I would regret it later.
"Any program you do, if you challenge yourself, you should be very tired at the end. Otherwise, you haven't given it your all."
While Kwan gave all she had, it appeared she was skating in a vacuum, never connecting with the audience. It wasn't anywhere near what she's presented in past nationals. Perhaps her hectic schedule as a freshman at UCLA, plus her burgeoning commercial obligations, have cut too deeply into her training.
"It's been a long week," Kwan admitted.
Kwan wasn't as lucky in the short program the previous day. She fell on the simplest of triple jumps, a toe loop, the first time she's done that in four years. That put her in a hole that Cohen skittered through with a brilliant routine, and Hughes glided through it with a superb program. Kwan seemed to need something special, something magical, in the free skate.
What she produced was flat. What she got was a championship built as much on reputation as performance.
She didn't attempt her triple-triple combo, but managed two triple-doubles. She fell on the triple loop, necessitating an improvised triple toe at the very end of a routine to "The Red Violins."
"I actually thought I would do the triple-triple, but I set up and hesitated and knew it right away I would only do the triple-double," Kwan, 19, said. "If I didn't add it, I would only have six triples."
Kwan will seek her third world title next month in Nice, France. But she will have trouble contending with anything similar to what she did in Cleveland.
Hughes is eligible for the worlds off her international results of 1999. But Cohen does not have such credentials and would need to finish in the top three in the junior worlds in three weeks to have a shot at the U.S. team for Nice.
If she can't go, fourth-place Angela Nikodinov is expected to be selected.
Weiss wins second U.S. figure skating title
Lang and Tchernyshev win again
Ina, Zimmerman class of U.S. nationals field in pairs short program
Michelle Kwan wins Nationals (Courtesy: ABC Sports)
Michael Weiss wins Nationals (Courtesy: ABC Sports)
Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman win pairs (Courtesy: ABC Sports)
Lang and Tchernyshev win (Courtesy: ABC Sports)
ABC Sports Special feature on Naomi Nari Nam and Sasha Cohen
Timothy Goebel earns silver (Courtesy: ABC Sports)