- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 13, 2002

From combined dispatches
LOS ANGELES Look out, Salt Lake City, Michelle Kwan is back on her game.
The most dominant American woman in decades won her sixth U.S. Figure Skating Championships crown last night in magnificent style. And with a pair of 6.0s for presentation, she sent a warning to her chief rivals from Russia: The chase for the Olympic gold next month will come through her.
Joining Kwan on one of America's strongest women's Olympic squads are Sasha Cohen and Sarah Hughes. The teen-agers edged Angela Nikodinov to earn their first Olympic berths.
No one blocks out distractions and bad vibes better than Kwan, whose season has been marked by inconsistent performances and a split with longtime coach Frank Carroll. But when the pressure is on at nationals, Kwan has become unbeatable.
"You work for so long and you hope to skate with freedom," she said. "Even though you're 100 percent ready and prepared, you just don't know what to expect."
Kwan's sixth U.S. title tied her for second place on the career list with Theresa Weld Blanchard, who skated in the 1920s, and Gretchen Merrill, whose last crown was in 1948. Only Maribel Vinson, with nine, has more.
Kwan, 21, also is the first woman with five consecutive American championships since Janet Lynn (1969-73).
"Just the feeling of it is just incredible," she said. "You just hope that everyone skates well and you come up on top."
Nothing Kwan had done this season indicated she would soar once more at nationals. She won Skate America, but hardly in spectacular fashion. Then she was third at Skate Canada, the first time she was not in the top two at an event since 1996.
Russia's Irina Slutskaya, who has made a habit of beating Kwan everywhere but at the world championships Kwan owns four of those won the Grand Prix final over Kwan.
So the Los Angeles native came to nationals with much to prove. As she always seems to do, she established her brilliant credentials once more, and the two perfect marks gave her 27 in 10 years at nationals.

Tchernyshev, Lang win 4th
LOS ANGELES As the audience stood and applauded, Peter Tchernyshev whispered something to Naomi Lang and the couple embraced.
It's been a long, hard road, but the two are on their way to the Olympics.
Lang and Tchernyshev won their fourth ice dance title yesterday in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and with it, an automatic trip to Salt Lake City.
"I am very overwhelmed by the fact we are going. It is great to represent this country," said the Russian-born Tchernyshev, who became a United States citizen last January. "It's a long way to dream. I am glad I am in the position to go to the Olympics and give something back to the country that has done so much for us."
Lang and Tchernyshev got three perfect marks for their free dance, but their technical marks ranging from 5.4 to 5.9 can use a little work. Still, when the scores flashed, Lang jumped up and waved to the crowd. Tchernyshev stood up and kissed the top of Lang's head.
The other Olympic berth goes to Beata Handra and Charles Sinek, the fourth-place finishers. Neither Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto, who finished second, nor Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov, who were third, are eligible.

Ina, Zimmerman win pairs
LOS ANGELES Kyoko Ina knows all about the Olympics. Now she wants to discover what it's like on a medals podium at the games.
Ina earned a spot on a third Olympic team Friday night, combining with John Zimmerman to win their third straight pairs crown at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. She finished ninth at the 1994 Games and fourth in 1998 with former partner Jason Dungjen.
While they will need a far stronger performance in Salt Lake City to beat out the formidable Russians, Canadians, Chinese and Poles for a medal, it's not all that far-fetched a notion.
"We're not really worried about them, we're worried about ourselves," Ina said.
"They've already proved this season they might even win a medal, but how it will happen nobody knows," added Tamara Moskvina, who has coached three others to gold medals.
That Ina and Zimmerman would win another national title was a foregone conclusion. The real competition was for the second berth in Salt Lake City, which went to Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn who missed all of this season because of a stress fracture in his back.
Scott and Dulebohn earned their third successive U.S. silver medal, a remarkable achievement considering their lack of competitive experience this season.


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