Kwan in Seventh Heaven with Dazzling Performance

by Michelle Wojdyla
Michelle Kwan

The final event at the 2003 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Dallas ended on a high note with Michelle Kwan winning her seventh U.S. ladies title. Sarah Hughes captured the silver and Sasha Cohen took home the bronze.

Kwan drew first in the final group, skating a clean program to perfection. Six triples, an exciting straight-line footwork sequence and her trademark change-edge spiral brought the crowd to a roaring standing ovation. The judges rewarded her with primarily 5.8s and 5.9s and one 6.0 for presentation. This was her 28th perfect mark at the U.S. Championships, and Kwan is the first woman to win six straight titles since Gretchen Merrill back from 1943-48.

"I felt really at ease," Kwan said. "The crowd was so loud. I had to take a few minutes after they announced my name just to calm myself down and gather my thoughts. I would think after so many years of competing I would be used to it out there."

Tonight was only Kwan's second competition of the season after winning Smart Ones Skate America in October.

"Nikolai (Morozov, her choreographer) came out one more time and Scott (Williams) was there to polish the in-betweens and the spins," Kwan said of her program to Rodrigo's "Aranjuez. "It seems to be getting stronger and stronger as the year progresses. Hopefully by Worlds it'll be good."

"I felt really at ease. The crowd was so loud. I had to take a few minutes after they announced my name just to calm myself down ..."
- Michelle Kwan

The judges left room for the other competitors, but none of the other skaters were able to achieve the level of marks. Sarah Hughes was a strong second, taking eight of the nine judges. She completed the five triples in "La Bayadere," including a triple Lutz-double toe combination and a back spiral into a triple loop. Hughes didn't have her usual speed and her combination spin was a little wobbly, but this was more than enough to place second. "It was a respectable skate," Hughes said. "I'm happy to move up a spot [from the 2002 U.S. Championships.] The nationals are always difficult because there's a lot of pressure to make the World Team. There was also some added pressure this year coming in with a lot more notoriety than in the past. I was happy with what I did. I'm not 100 percent pleased because I can do a lot better. It's hard for me to look at the fact that I can't always be perfect, especially coming off of Salt Lake. I always want to do better."

Last year Hughes was third behind Sasha Cohen. This year was Cohen's turn. She made several errors throughout her Rachmaninoff program including two-footing her triple toe on the back of her triple Lutz-triple toe combination. She fell on a triple toe (intended to be a triple toe-half loop-triple Salchow) and two footed her solo triple Salchow. She was only able to complete four clean triples and her usual flow and extension were missing this evening.

"I had a good strong first half and I was kind of disappointed with the end," Cohen said. "I should have done it. I wish I could go out and do it again, but I can't. I wasn't that tired. I felt good going through it and I just was not strong enough, especially with the toe loop. I guess I wasn't focused enough on that. I can't really give you an answer why it was not the performance that I wanted, but I gotta go home, take this with me and work harder and not let that happen again."

Ann Patrice McDonough received a standing ovation for her interpretation of "Madame Butterfly." McDonough opened with a popped Axel but came back strong, landing seven triples. She took two third-place ordinals from Cohen and pulled up from sixth after the short to place fourth.

"I was disappointed with how I skated in the short," McDonough said. "I think it cost me a lot in this competition. If I make [the podium] that's awesome. If I don't, it's another year to improve."

Jennifer Kirk finished fifth after falling on her triple Lutz and triple flip. She did land a solid triple toe-triple toe combination.

Yebin Mok placed sixth with a program that featured a triple Lutz-double toe and a triple flip-double toe combination and a stunning sequence of Ina Bauer to spread eagle series to a Charlotte into a double Axel.

The U.S. will be sending Kwan, Hughes and Cohen to the World Championships in Washington, D.C., with strong hopes of a ladies podium sweep.

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