Mon, Mar 31, 2003 - Page 20 News List

Kwan makes ice skating history

RECORD BREAKER With her most recent victory, the figure skater became only the third American to win five times at the World Figure Skating Championships

AP , WASHINGTON

Michelle Kwan of the US performs in the World Figure Skating Championships in Washington on Saturday.

PHOTO: REUTERS

With a smile that could light up the world and a grace unmatched in her graceful sport, Michelle Kwan soared into the record books Saturday night.

Kwan became only the third American to win five World Figure Skating Championships, and she did it with the kind of magnificent artistry that would match anyone who has ever laced on skates.

Russia's Elena Sokolova capped her breakthrough season by winning the silver medal, and Japan's Fumie Suguri won the bronze.

For those who criticize Kwan for not trying the most difficult jumps, she answered with a technical masterpiece of spins, spirals and footwork that had the crowd in ecstasy.

She appeared to be just as ecstatic, particularly toward the end of yet another brilliant free skate. With more than a minute remaining in the program, she was smiling widely. During a mesmerizing series of steps from one end of the rink to another, she looked as if she was somewhere else -- in that special place where only champions travel.

Kwan, a seven-time US champion, is tied with Dick Button and Carol Heiss for most world crowns by an American. She already has more world medals than any American, with eight. She has been either first or second at every world championship since 1996, winning in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2001 and this year.

"I hope she wins 25 world championships," an elated Button said.

American Sasha Cohen barely was edged by Suguri for third -- the difference being Suguri had an easier qualifying group than Cohen and won it. Cohen was third behind Kwan and Sokolova in qualifying, fifth in the short program and third Saturday night.

Kwan, the first woman to reclaim the world crown three times, did six triples -- two in combination -- with the smoothest salchow and lutz you will ever see. While she didn't attempt a triple-triple combination -- Sokolova and several others did them -- it hardly mattered when everything else was of such high quality.

"Tonight, this week, it's been ... I still don't believe it," said Kwan, who sobbed on the victory stand. "It's like, `Wow.' I have no words.

"I never felt such energy from myself and felt so calm. It seemed like I walked through everything."

As the 22-year-old Kwan continues to collect titles, it seems more certain she will be around for the 2006 Olympics. After all, the one piece of gold missing is in sports' biggest arena, although she has a silver and bronze at the Olympics.

"When I look back at 10 years at Worlds, it seems like it didn't happen," Kwan said. "Tonight, I got to enjoy the program."

Until her challengers -- defending champion Irina Slutskaya missed worlds to tend to her ill mother -- narrow the artistry gap, there is no one in sight who can match Kwan.

Olympic champion Sarah Hughes, skating in the next-to-last group, had a far-better performance than in qualifying. She fell once, on a triple flip, but hit five other triples. Her spins were precise and she left the ice feeling a whole lot better than a few days ago.

She was rewarded for her presentation enough to boost her to sixth.

"I definitely did a lot more than I thought was possible and I survived," Hughes said. "It was an incredible week in my life. I'm definitely glad the year is over."

Sokolova, skating in her second worlds, but first since 1998, was coming off a concussion suffered when a luggage bag hit her on the head during an airplane flight. She recovered from that, beat Slutskaya to win her first national title and, in Washington, further established herself as the best of the Russians.

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