Sarah Hughes is Ready to Regain Her Competitive Edge

Sarah Hughes and Robin Wagner are back in a familiar place in front of the media.

For the first time in history, the reigning Olympic ladies figure skating champion will compete in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships the year following the Olympics. Sarah Hughes arrived in Dallas Tuesday to get ready for the ladies competition at the 2003 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which starts Thursday with the short program.

In addition to making U.S. ladies' figure skating history, this will be Hughes' first major competition of the year since a torn muscle in her leg had her sidelined since October.

Hughes, who is the spokesperson for National Skating Week (Jan. 18-25), was upbeat and confident with the media, displaying a polished poise she has gained through a year of interviews and public appearance. She laughed freely when talking about some of her experiences, but she was all business when it came down to the U.S. Championships.

With a strong field of ladies competing this year, many people see Hughes as an underdog in this competition, which she said isn't unusual for her. But the competition is motivating to Hughes, who said she skates better against stiff competition.

"I'm rarely the favorite, so this doesn't feel odd at all," she said.

In the last month Hughes has gotten back into the routine of training to get ready for this competition, which she said has been good for her. The U.S. Championship title is a prestigious one, Hughes said, and she doesn't think any competitor would say she didn't want to win it. But Hughes admitted that the title isn't her only goal this year.

"I feel five years older since the Olympics, but I wouldn't have changed it for the world."
- Sarah Hughes -

"I won't say [the title is] my sole focus this year," she said. "I would like to make the World team, so I guess my goals are similar to last year [when I was looking to make the Olympic team]."

Coach Robin Wagner said she's thrilled that Hughes is competing in the U.S. Championships and supports the decision, but said it was completely Hughes' decision.

"For the last month Sarah has been fully focused on skating, which has been nice for both of us," Wagner said. "I'm pleased with where she's at. Is she where she has been in the past? Obviously she's not, but we're taking it one step at time."

While she was injured, Hughes had time to do other things and to think about skating. What she realized is that she wanted to be on the ice.

"So many great things have happened in the last year, but I have a natural inclination to go to the rink everyday and train," she said.

Since her gold medal-winning skate at the 2002 Olympics, life has been different for Hughes. She said she has seen more, done more and thought about more than she ever could have imagined. And those experiences have matured her.

"With the experiences I've had in the last year I don't think anyone can expect me to be unscathed or unchanged by it," Hughes said. "I feel five years older since the Olympics, but I wouldn't have changed it for the world."

But since the last year has been so different, Hughes said she's not sure how she feels about the U.S. Championships.

"I haven't competed in almost a year, so the question is how I'll feel doing it," she said. "It's been a very different year, and I want to see what it feels like to compete again."

Hughes said she isn't comparing this competition to the Olympics, nor does she feel that she is defending her Olympic title. She said the allure of her Olympic win will not be taken away no matter where she places at the U.S. Championships.

"Last year I came in third in this competition and I'm just hoping to move up this year," she said. "The Olympic win was really special and I'm not looking to match it, because I know that probably nothing will ever match that."

While she has recommitted to her skating for now, Hughes said she is not yet sure what the future holds for her. She has applied to several colleges and has already been accepted to Harvard University.

"I was relieved when I got the letter [from Harvard] because I've worked hard to get into that school for a long time," she said. "Education has always been important to my family, and it was nice to be recognized for my academic achievements."

Hughes is considering other East Coast schools as well and isn't sure at this time what her academic plans are for the next year.

"I wasn't expecting the Olympic [win] last year, and now I have more options for the future, but they're all positive ones," Hughes said.