Sarah Shinned Like Gold
I think the below article says it all - for the most part. Congratulations to Sarah.
Kwan's Degree of Difficulty
Easier jumps may be costly in gold pursuit
Michelle Is Experienced in Knowing the Pitfalls
Feb 21, 2002
Sarah on Top of the World
By John Jeansonne
February 21, 2002
Salt Lake City -- All of the Salt Lake City Winter Games' security cameras, chain-link fencing and National Guardsmen can't make safe an Olympic gold medal for Michelle Kwan.
She is universally proclaimed the Kween of her sport, but all the resources that have assured 13 days of efficiently controlled fun here won't be of help tonight when a figure skating donnybrook is expected to break out in the women's deciding long program.
Kwan, after all, was the gold-medal favorite and led after the Olympic short program in Nagano four years ago, but wound up with the silver when she was outpointed in the long program's heavyweight bout with Tara Lipinski. Sitting again in first place, Kwan this time faces a challenge from Russia's athletic Irina Slutskaya, who is second after the short program, and third-place Sasha Cohen, bubbling up to figure skating's elite surface after a year off because of injury.
Long Island teenager Sarah Hughes, in fourth place, isn't completely out of the picture either, especially given her history of steely competitiveness when she needs it most.
All, Kwan said, are "like gladiators," and given the tension of such a high-stakes contest, it always is possible that some will lose their heads (figuratively). Slutskaya, with her little-kid smile and rosy cheeks, proclaimed herself "ready, and I will fight. You feel here a war on ice."
The way figure skating's scoring works, with the long program counting for two-thirds of the final tally, Kwan, Slutskaya and Cohen proceed to the long program in a dead heat, in effect. That's because whichever of the three wins the long program will win the competition. (For Hughes to take the gold, she would have to combine a long-program victory with a third-or-worse finish by Kwan tonight.)
"You have to be calm," Kwan said of her approach. "Every competition is just like this one. You've just got to go and put it together and enjoy it. Your training is done, you're here now and you've got to keep going. You can't analyze things too much."
Although, of course, the rest of the figure skating world can analyze this till the fat lady spins. And already is.
Like this: Kwan's overall look - her stage presence, instincts and simple skating beauty - are such an accepted fact that she brought a straight line of 5.9 marks for presentation in Tuesday night's short program, though many in the skating community considered her routine slow and not entirely crisp.
People who have the eagle eye to spot such things noted that Kwan didn't jab her toe pick adequately to produce a strong triple-rotation flip jump and that her spin wasn't especially quick. Also, although Slutskaya, Cohen and Hughes have demonstrated more demanding jumps such as triple/triple combinations, it has been asked: When is the last time Kwan landed a triple/triple?
Not this season. And though Kwan plans one triple toe/triple toe tonight, that is considered an easier chore than even the second of Hughes' two scheduled triple/triples - the Salchow/loop and toe/loop.
That's because toe jumps use a toe pick to launch the skater while Salchows and loops are "edge" jumps, requiring the skater to generate lift from her legs and upper body.
Slutskaya does a Salchow/loop triple/triple combination and might attempt a triple/double/double (no step between the three jumps), further putting pressure on Kwan to earn most of her points for presentation. Cohen's triple/triple combinations are a toe-assisted Lutz with the edge-jump toe loop, also harder than Kwan's combo jump.
Also, while the others in the medal mix are chasers rather than the chasee - Kwan's role - there is a certain potential for Kwan to be tied up a bit by her occasional tendency to work cautiously, which is what hurt her otherwise clean performance in the last Olympics.
"I wouldn't say I'm a completely different person than I was four years ago," Kwan said, "but I've experienced a few ups and downs in competition and each year I've learned something from the good and the bad. This is a completely different experience from Nagano. I just want to have fun and enjoy it. It is the Olympic Games. It's once in a lifetime."
Well, in her case, twice in a lifetime. Which is also true for Slutskaya, who finished fifth in Nagano but since has evolved into Kwan's most persistent challenger. If Slutskaya presents her soaring jumps and overall zip without making mistakes, will she be able to prevail against the enormously popular Kwan in Kwan's home country?
"Americans like me, too," Slutskaya said. "Of course, I'm not favored like an American girl, but I think they like me. Why wouldn't they cheer for me, too?" And why wouldn't the judges demand that Kwan, as admirable as her body of work has been, be at her best to earn her long-sought gold - rather than simply turning the evening into a coronation?
It could be that Cohen, hiding in the weeds, will prove capable of disrupting the Kwan-Slutskaya duel that has been anticipated most of the past two years, though Cohen insisted she is just "amazed to be here" after missing last season with a back injury.
"This will be so interesting," Slutskaya said of the evening. "Nobody knows what will go on." Not even all those crack security forces.
Copyright © 2002, Newsday, Inc.