Michelle Kwan Halfway To Ninth U.S. Ladies Title

by Michelle Wojdyla, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
Michelle Kwan
Photo by Paul Harvath

Senior Ladies Short Program Results
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(1/13/05) — An exceptional day of skating at the 2005 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships concluded Thursday night with the ladies short program. Following the lead of the “can you top this?” men's competition, the ladies stepped up with their own night of standing ovations and 6.0s. Skating last, a position that does not come often, Michelle Kwan (Los Angeles FSC) is halfway to a record-tying ninth U.S. title after solidly winning the short program with the debut of “Adagio” from “Spartacus.” Sasha Cohen (Orange County FSC) placed second with “Dark Eyes” and Jennifer Kirk is third with an encore season of “Chicago.”

Tonight was Kwan's debut of her short program, as her only two competitions this season were the Campbell's Classic in St. Paul and the Marshalls World Cup of Skating in Detroit, both of which were free skate-only events. Her jump elements were triple Lutz-double toe, double Axel, and a triple flip. After her flip, Kwan built speed, coming around the corner as the music reached a crescendo. The knowledgeable crowd knew what came next and the roar began as Kwan entered into her signature change-edge spiral.

There was an electric shock that surged through the crowd as she struck her ending pose. The program was rewarded with marks of 5.6 to 5.9 for required elements and six 5.9s and three 6.0s for presentation.

“I better snag all the sixes I can get,” Kwan laughed.

Kwan looked secure and confident throughout her program. A near miss with Cohen during the warm-up did not seem to rattle either lady.

“The six-minute warm-up is very intense,” Kwan said. “Collisions happen once in a while. When it's nationals it's so intense, and your focus is on your own skating.”

Kwan's focus is now on the free skate Saturday night.

“Each competition is a goal of mine to win,” Kwan said. “This one, so far, is very special.”

Cohen also debuted a new short program. Although she has skated to “Dark Eyes” in the past, this is a new incarnation. Her opening element, a combination triple Lutz-double toe, was marred by a touch down before the double toe. The choreography was a combination of new moves and returning favorites. The Sasha Skid made its way back into her program, adding a twist to the standard spiral sequence when Cohen makes a seemingly impossible edge change. Her final combination spin has a unique position that makes her look like an old-fashioned music box dancer, tucking her free leg across her body and creating a striking silhouette.

“I was satisfied with my performance,” Cohen said, “and I feel good going into the long.”

The transition back to coach John Nicks has been smooth. Nicks did note a difference.

“One thing changed. I was an old man and she was a young girl,” Nicks said. “I'm still an old man and she's a young lady.”

Cohen feels more confident after a turbulent fall season which included an injury and change of coaches.

“At the last pro-am it was not one of my best skates,” Cohen said. “Training again with Mr. Nicks, everything fell into place.

Kirk's short program showed no indication that she had missed most of the fall season. She ticked off all her elements, and her spirals looking exceptionally flexible. The centering in her spins was spot on, and she played with the audience in character, bringing them to their feet.

“I feel really good,” Kirk said. “I feel really, really ready to compete. This wasn't a surprise to me. It's always nice to skate well, but it isn't such a shock as it has been in other nationals short programs.”

Kirk has kept her struggles private.

“It's been a really hard year,” she said. “There's been a lot of tears and a lot of personal stuff. My dad has been coming a lot more often when I go to the rink. Now I can just focus on skating and not all the other stuff in my life. Luckily Ken (Congemi) and Frank (Carroll) have been amazing at trying to get me back.”

A moment of silence at the beginning of the competition honored Angela Nikodinov's mother.

“When I heard the news, it's sad,” Kwan said, tears in her eyes. “I train with Angela. It's a tragedy. It puts everything in perspective. I hope everyone stays strong.”

“I think it puts life in perspective,” Cohen said. “I know Angela's very close to her mom. It's a terrible loss. I can't imagine how tough it must be for her.”

One tragedy Kirk is all too familiar with is the loss of a mother, and her thoughts went out to Nikodinov and her family. Kirk's mother passed away from breast cancer a few years ago.

“It's horrible, the way it happened,” Kirk said. “It's one of those things that you could never expect to happen. You can't ask why but like Michelle and Sasha said, it does put skating into perspective. I think a lot of times you get caught up in a competition like this. You think ‘oh, my short program is my life!' but you realize that there [are] so many more important things. You have to take the time to tell the people that you care about you love them.

“I know what helped me was getting back to what I know, which is skating, and I think it will help her, too,” Kirk said.

Reigning U.S. junior champion Kimmie Meissner made a strong debut in the senior ranks by finishing fourth.

The ladies program concludes Saturday night and the competition will be live on ABC-TV on the East Coast.