The golden child
With nothing to lose, Hughes was simply terrificPosted: Friday February 22, 2002 8:54 AM
It's exactly what ladies figure skating needed, and what the Olympics is supposed to be about. Higher, stronger, faster, all that good stuff. The performance of a lifetime. Going not for presentation marks, but for it all.
Sixteen-year-old Sarah Hughes , the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team, pulled out every stop in Thursday night's free skate, knowing she had nothing to lose after finishing fourth in the short program.
She landed an unprecedented array of jump combinations. Triple sal-triple loop; triple lutz-double toe; triple toe-triple loop, her smile growing ever wider as she did so. No woman had ever done two perfect triple-triple combinations in the same program before.
Hughes was hoping for a medal, to pull herself from fourth to third. It never crossed her mind she might win gold. But as the two Americans ahead of her faltered, first Sasha Cohen , then Michelle Kwan , followed by a weak performance by Irina Slutskaya of Russia, Hughes suddenly, shockingly found herself atop the podium. It will go down as one of the most startling upsets in figure skating history.
Kwan, the overwhelming favorite, failed again to land her triple-triple combination, the jump that has eluded her all season. When Kwan fell on a triple flip, the judges, who'd seemed prepared to crown her after the short program, had little choice but to place the six-time U.S. champion third.
Hughes was a jolt of joy to a sport that had suffered badly from a fortnight of judging controversies and charges of corruption. She proved that an athletic skater could beat ice princesses and skating ballerinas if she trusted her talent and let her love of skating shine.
Hers was a performance of ebullience, and a reminder to the skeptics that the judges, old and blind as they might be, sometimes call the upsets right.
Sports Illustrated senior writer E.M. Swift is in Utah covering the Olympics figure-skating competition for the magazine and CNNSI.com. Check back regularly for behind-the-scenes reports from Salt Lake City.