Kwan back on top; Goebel leads men

Posted: Friday, January 17, 2003

DALLAS -- Give it up? Maybe Michelle Kwan is just getting warmed up.

The most dominant skater of her generation, Kwan added yet another memorable performance to her magnificent career Thursday night when she beat a loaded field in the short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

In edging Sasha Cohen, the most successful skater of this season, and Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes, Kwan silenced those who wondered why, at age 22, she still is doing this.

And doing it as well as at any time in the past decade when she won six national championships -- the last five in a row -- four world titles and two Olympic medals (silver and bronze).

''For me it is not all about history,'' she said. ''As a young kid, I wanted to be remembered as a legend -- to be remembered period, not so much as a legend. If I compete more and more, it is like, 'Remember Me! Remember Me!'

''If it doesn't happen, it doesn't happen.''

While Kwan took the lead in the women's event, the other U.S. bronze medalist from Salt Lake City, Tim Goebel, won the men's short program.

It was just the second appearance of the season for Kwan, who won Skate America in October as a replacement for an injured Hughes. She toyed with not competing at all this year, but, judging by Thursday's superb showing, that would have been such a waste.

''Maybe I haven't been in front of the judges, but I've been busy. It's not like I have been sitting on the couch eating potato chips.''

Her triple flip easily was the best of the night, as were her unmatchable spirals. Kwan earned five 5.9s for presentation and had no mark below 5.7.

Hughes skated first among the big three and put out a solid if not spectacular routine. Her shaky landing on a triple lutz-double toe loop combination cost her slightly, as did a dip on her triple flip landing.

But remember, she was just fourth after the short program at Salt Lake City.

''Even though I had a terrific warmup, I felt a little wobbly,'' she said. ''But determination got me through.''

Cohen two-footed the landing on her combination jump and lacked spark in what normally is a sizzling routine to ''Malaguena.'' The judges liked her style, however, and placed her second.

''I could have done a better short, but I set myself up for the long (on Saturday night),'' Cohen said.

Goebel held off some strong challenges from a crop of rising American skaters in the men's short program. While the performance of the Olympic bronze medalist wasn't exactly inspiring, it was good enough to finish ahead of up-and-comers Johnny Weir and Matt Savoie, and veteran Michael Weiss, who was upset at placing fourth.

''I was really nervous, being that I usually have a few Grand Prixs to get ready for nationals,'' said Goebel, sidelined for most of the season with a muscle injury near his hip. ''Nationals are the biggest event of the year and I have not really competed.

''For the first real event of the season and being off for so long, I think it went fine. I think I am in a good spot.''

Goebel, 22, was somewhat sluggish and a bit untidy. His planned quadruple-triple combination turned into a quad salchow-double toe after an insecure landing on the quad. He also made a slight turn out of his triple axel. His footwork was improved, but slow.

The world silver medalist and 2001 U.S. champion did nail his triple flip and had some nice, tight spins toward the end of his 2-minute, 40-second program to ''Romeo and Juliet.''

''It felt great to be back,'' Goebel said. ''For some strange reason, I like the adrenaline and the nervousness and being out in front of a crowd. This is all about everything I came back for. This is what I enjoy about skating.''

Weiss didn't enjoy being fourth, especially with this year's world championships scheduled for Washington, D.C., just minutes from his Fairfax, Va., home. He must finish in the top three here to get to worlds.

He couldn't land a triple axel, falling to his knees after just 2 1/2 revolutions. The 1999 and 2000 U.S. champion also barely touched down with two feet on his quadruple toe loop in combination with a triple toe.

''I thought that would have been good enough to be in second,'' an annoyed Weiss said. ''Some of the programs people are doing is stuff we were doing in juniors.''

Of the crop of challenging youngsters, the 18-year-old Weir was best. His energetic routine to music from ''Cirque du Soleil'' included a solid triple lutz-triple toe loop combination and a strong triple axel. The 2001 world junior champion's footwork was entertaining and relatively difficult.

''I'm not expecting to beat everyone this year,'' Weir admitted. ''I want them to know that next year, when I have a quad in my program, I'll be going for first, not fifth, as I thought this year.''

Savoie, 22, has struggled ever since placing fourth in last year's nationals and missing the Olympic team. He didn't even practice Thursday because of a left knee tendinosis.

''Withdrawing came into my mind,'' he said.

Yet Savoie did the biggest triple axel of the day, along with a terrific triple lutz. His shaky combination jump dropped him below Weir, but in position for second trip to worlds.

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