- The Washington Times - Friday, February 22, 2002

SALT LAKE CITY Michelle Kwan's medals collection still is incomplete, thanks to yet another American teen-ager Sarah Hughes.

The 16-year-old Hughes, with the performance of her young life, soared from fourth place to win the free skate and the Olympic gold medal last night. While Hughes played the same role as Tara Lipinski four years, Kwan made two major mistakes to fall to third, behind Russian Irina Slutskaya.

Hughes is a year older than Lipinski was at the Nagano Games. She also was a much longer shot to win here, because Lipinski owned a world title in 1998. And Kwan is a far more accomplished skater now, with four world championships and six U.S. titles.

But Hughes was sensational and the rest of the top competitors were ordinary.

"Oh, my God. Oh, my God," coach Robin Wagner screamed when the marks showed Hughes had won. Hughes' mouth dropped open and tears sprang from both of their eyes.

Hughes showed none of the tension of her short program, rollicking through seven triple jumps, five in combination. Wagner leaped as high as her student after Hughes nailed a huge triple toe loop-triple loop combo.

The smile on Hughes' face grew along with the crowd's din, and she nearly doubled over in joy when she finished a captivating program. Wagner, meanwhile, practically jumped over the sideboards to hug the youngster, who responded magnificently to the most pressure of her life.

Kwan did not respond nearly as well. She fell on a triple flip, two-footed another triple jump in combination and didn't skate with the passion and fire that has become her trademark in world and U.S. championships.

It was eerily reminiscent of how she lost to Lipinski.

Slutskaya had a wide opening, and she skated better than Kwan. But she was conservative, not bothering with any triple-triple combinations that have become her trademark. And she had a sloppy landing on a triple flip.

Still, she appeared stunned and angry that she didn't win. The difference was a tiebreaker with the judge from Finland, who gave Hughes the edge in artistry.

The win was one of the biggest upsets in Olympic skating history, particularly because nerves seemed to get to Hughes on Tuesday night. But once she hit the ice last night and landed her first combination, she was flying to heights few predicted when she finished third at nationals last month behind Kwan and Sasha Cohen.

Cohen was fourth here.

"It's something I've always dreamed of," said Hughes, who was third at worlds last year behind Kwan and Slutskaya. "Just to be able to skate tonight. I didn't want to skate for a gold medal. I went out and had a great time. I said, 'This is the Olympics. I want to do the best.'"

And she is the best, a spot Kwan had in her grasp. But the 21-year-old Californian couldn't reach out and grab it.

"I made a few mistakes," Kwan said, "but I'm just going to keep on going strong. It just wasn't meant to be."

Nor was it meant to be for Cohen, who was third after the short program.


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