Kwan makes history

Posted: Sunday, January 16, 2005

PORTLAND, Ore. — Michelle Kwan held up nine fingers and grinned at the camera. She has her place in history, a run as impressive for its longevity as its dominance.

Kwan won her ninth title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday night, tying Maribel Vinson for the all-time record. She earned four more 6.0s, giving her 42 at nationals in the illustrious career that began more than a decade ago with a tiny 12-year-old who wasn't even old enough to wear makeup.

Now 24, Kwan is a beautiful young woman with one of the most recognizable faces in the world. But she's as dominant as she's always been, with no one in the United States coming close to challenging her.

Certainly not Sasha Cohen, who once again failed to come through when it matters most. Cohen finished second after botching two jumps and was lucky to finish ahead of up-and-comer Kimmie Meissner, who made a bit of history herself with the first triple axel by a U.S. woman since Tonya Harding.

Earlier, Johnny Weir won his second straight men's title. Olympic bronze medalist Tim Goebel was second.

Vinson won nine titles in the 1920s and 1930s, a mark that once seemed certain to stand. Gretchen Merrill, Tenley Albright and Peggy Fleming — they all won multiple titles, but none came close to Vinson.

But it's somehow fitting that Kwan was the one to finally reach the pinnacle. Her former coach, Frank Carroll, trained with Vinson, and Carroll would often tell Kwan stories about Vinson and the lessons she'd taught him. Vinson may not have lived to see Kwan, but she's had a hand in Kwan's success.

''There's a cosmic connection between me and Maribel,'' Kwan said. ''She taught Frank and Frank taught me. To be with her is something.''

Vinson died when the plane carrying the U.S. team to the 1961 world championships in Prague crashed in Belgium. Vinson was coaching her daughters, Maribel Y. and Laurence, who had just won the U.S. title.

Her performance Saturday night may not have been Kwan's best — she was a little tentative and slower than she's been in practice. But it was still gorgeous, and more than worthy of one for the record books.

Skating to ''Bolero,'' with a program choreographed by none other than Christopher Dean, Kwan was lovely in her golden costume. She was the picture of grace, perfectly in sync with the music.

She picked up speed with every jump she did, until she was dancing down the ice on her final footwork. The crowd was cheering so loudly she could barely hear the end of her music, throwing back her arms and head in triumph. Fans jumped to their feet, and Kwan pumped her fist, shook her head and clapped her hands as if to say, ''I did it.''

She patted her chest twice and grinned after taking her bows, and pointed to friends in the crowd. When she saw her 6.0s — she's earned 42 at nationals — she beamed and raised her arms in triumph.

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