- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2003

Michelle Kwan's still got it. Sarah Hughes doesn't.

The World Figure Skating Championships at MCI Center started yesterday for the women with a qualifying round that put all three Americans Kwan, Hughes and Sasha Cohen in the same skate group with performances early in the day.

Kwan beat all her rivals easily, landing six triples and making only one minor mistake on a jump.

"I felt really good today," Kwan said. "I have no complaints with my performance."

The three women had a good chance to sweep the event, especially after Russian Irina Slutskaya withdrew last week to be with her ailing mother. But Hughes, the reigning Olympic champion, is going to have a tough time getting any medal after yesterday's performance. She fell on one triple jump and popped two others into singles.

Hughes placed sixth in her qualifying group, which won't put her in the final skate group for tomorrow's short program. Her marks dipped as low as 4.7 for technical merit and 5.0 for artistry.

"I wouldn't say I'm a morning person," said Hughes, who landed only three clean triples.

Russia's Elena Sokolova took second place after landing two triple-triple combinations in her first worlds appearance since 1998.

Cohen finished third with a strong program, and the crowd booed when she received an unjustifiably low 5.1.

Japan's Fumie Suguri took first place in her qualifying group, followed by Canada's Jennifer Robinson, a top-six surprise. Russian Viktoria Volchkova finished third.

Hughes, whose mistakes let Japan's Shizuka Arakawa and Ukraine's Elena Liashenko pass her, will try to rebound tomorrow, which isn't out of the question.

The 17-year-old skates well when she is an underdog. She came back in Salt Lake City after a subpar short program to win Olympic gold with the best performance of her career.

"I am a strong competitor," she said. "I have a strong mind. It's OK it's just one program."

The qualifying round is worth 20 percent of the final score. Tomorrow's short program counts for 30 percent and Saturday's free skate for 50 percent.

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