Michelle Kwan Is A Perfect 6.0

by Sal Zanca, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
Michelle Kwan
Photo by Michelle Harvath

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(1/10/04) - "No. Not at all," Michelle Kwan (Los Angeles FSC) responded when someone asked her if she thought she would ever win eight U.S. senior ladies titles.

Yet she has after an enthralling routine to "Tosca" that earned her seven 6.0s marks for presentation.

That makes it 35 for her career in the U.S. Championships and 44 in major competition, including the World Championships.

"It seems like the last couple of months have been very up and down," Kwan said. "So to come out and be solid at nationals was a goal of mine."

Kwan's marks included four 5.8s and seven 5.9s for a perfect performance that had six triple jumps, exquisite spins and her famous spirals. Kwan implied that she might have known it was going to be a good night.

"I was happy with my warmup," she said. "Seldom does a skater enjoy the six minutes out there."

If Kwan regretted anything, it was that her father, Danny, was not in Atlanta for the performance. It was the first U.S. Championships he has missed.

"I'm really sorry my dad missed it," Kwan said.

When asked why her father wasn't there, Kwan added, "I'm grown up, so there's only so much a parent can do now. He's always been a nervous dad, and my mom's the one who has always been cool as a cucumber."

It was Kwan's seventh consecutive U.S. title. It's also the 11th consecutive medal for Kwan at the U.S. Championships, which ties her with the legendary Maribel Vinson. Now she goes on to the World Championships in Dortmund, Germany, in March for a chance for more records. She has won five World titles, and another one would break the American ladies record held by Carol Heiss and put her in second place on the all-time list behind Sonia Henie's 10.

Kwan said she doesn't know what keeps her coming back.

"I wish I knew," she said. "I spoke to a lot of skaters that have turned professional like Brian (Boitano). He said, 'One day you feel like you are done competing.' I don't think that time has come for me quite yet. I love competing. I love the intensity. I love sitting in the hotel room and thinking how you are going to feel like."

There are other aspects of sports besides the titles she appreciates. "It is not just stacking medals," she said. "For me it is the performance. I just went out there, took my time and had a great experience."

Despite the outstanding performance, she is reluctant to make a solid commitment to the  2006 Olympics.

"It is hard for me to commit and say, 'You are going to do this or you are going to do that,'" she said. "Essentially you just follow your heart. I am leaning towards going to 2006 but it means nothing if I say I am going to go. For me it just means working hard."

The best praise came from her fellow competitor, Jennifer Kirk (SC of Boston), who was eight years old when Kwan started competing at the U.S. Championships.

"It's amazing. I feel almost privileged to be here next to her," said Kirk, who finished third. "I remember watching her at home when I first started skating. I went to the 1995 nationals in Providence. I saw Michelle Kwan and I was such a fan and I was in awe of her. I can't believe I am here sharing a podium with her. I look up to her so much. Her career is something I can only dream of having."

Kirk won her first U.S. medal Saturday night. She will make her second trip to the World Championships - in 2002 she replaced Sarah Hughes after the Olympic champion chose not to go.

Kirk's routine was up and down. She had triple-triple early but had unsteady landings on a few jumps and fell on a triple Salchow. Marks of 5.6 and 5.7 were good enough to keep her in third place.

Kirk said she was not feeling 100 percent during the free skate tonight.

"Unfortunately I came down this afternoon with a little bit of the flu," Kirk said. "After the warmup if was hard for me to focus ... I fought really hard throughout my program. It was difficult to do it not feeling that well, but I am heading to Worlds, and I am thrilled to be on the podium for the first time."

Sasha Cohen was the first to skate in the final group of ladies. After winning the short program, she knew she had an excellent chance of winning her first U.S. title.

Cohen started her free skate as if she was ready to win, landing four triples, three in combination with double jumps.

Then disaster struck. She fell on a triple toe and then had a poor landing on a triple Lutz.

"After the six-minute warmup we took our time to start," Cohen said about getting ready for her skate. "I felt pretty good going through it. But by the middle I was a little tired. My arms and legs weren't working together, and I fell on the toe. It was kind of a shock. But now I will work with Robin and figure out how to transfer a practice to a program."

After she finished her routine, her body language told the story. She wandered around on the ice for a few seconds, hands on hips. Her chances for her first title were suddenly up in the air. Although she received a 6.0 for presentation for her program to "Swan Lake," there was just one other 5.9 among the rest of the marks and too many 5.6s and 5.7s in the technical marks.

Her new coach, Robin Wagner, gave her a big hug in the kiss and cry after the marks were done.

In fourth place was Amber Corwin (All Year FSC). Like Kirk she had a triple-triple but made a few mistakes. Her finish gave her a berth at the Four Continents Championships after Kwan declined to go to Hamilton, Ontario.

Angela Nikodinov (All Year FSC) also started well but fell in the middle of her routine and doubled a few jumps near the end of her program.