Sarah Hughes Shines
Last Skater Standing
With precision rarely seen even in figure skating, the U.S. ladies' singles team, the most talented in the world, has taken an early-season synchronized tumble. Michelle Kwan has looked clueless while going coachless. (She and Frank Carroll split in October after nearly 10 years together.) Sasha Cohen landed only two jumps in her first long program, at Skate America in Colorado Springs in October. And Angela Nikodinov lost her longtime coach to cancer on Nov. 12. Only 16-year-old Sarah Hughes, the world bronze medalist last spring, behind Kwan and Russia's Irina Slutskaya, seems better off than she was at the start of the season.
Hughes placed second to Kwan (and outskated her, in the eyes of many skating observers) at Skate America, beat Kwan and Slutskaya at Skate Canada in early November, and won the long program in placing second at the Lalique Trophy in Paris two weeks later. Hughes has two strong triple-triple combinations in her long program, and she's following the mantra of her coach, Robin Wagner, to "draw the audience in" by showing more emotion.
"She's become very musical and lyrical," says Dick Button, the skating guru and two-time gold medalist. "I like her spirals. She has a layback spin that doesn't stop. She's a complete skater."
This summer Hughes practiced a triple Axel in a harness before she and Wagner decided it was neither consistent enough nor necessary for a program that was already technically robust. In this season's splat-filled climate, a safe strategy is a sound one for a contender whose stock is rising.