Kwan prepares for first look at new judging system

Posted: Monday, January 17, 2005

PORTLAND, Ore. — Michelle Kwan took one night to relax and celebrate her historic achievement with family and friends, then it was right back to the rink.

It took a lot of hard work to get those nine titles at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and she can't start coasting now.

''I've got a lot of things to work on,'' Kwan said after winning her ninth crown Saturday night, tying Maribel Vinson for the all-time record. ''I'll celebrate tonight, and then go back and work really hard because it's a new system, new code of points, new spins, footwork.

''So I've got a lot to juggle in the next few weeks.''

Kwan is a special talent, one of those skaters who comes along every generation or so. But it takes more than just talent to stay on top, and Kwan's work ethic has always been one of her biggest strengths. Yes, she loves to skate, but she knows it's her job, too.

Watch her at a practice sometime. She's all business, not wasting a single second she's on the ice. Those little flutters of her hands? She's running through her program, imagining herself moving across the rink. Those couple of minutes of quiet time at center ice? Same thing. Everything has a purpose, no detail too small.

Now she has to prepare for her first look at the new, points-based judging system, and there's even more to consider.

The International Skating Union abandoned the century-old 6.0 mark in June, and worlds will be judged on the new points system. Though the scoring system was tested in the Grand Prix series last season before it was adopted, Kwan has yet to skate under it. She's skipped the Grand Prixs the last two years.

Skating is still skating, and Kwan had the new code in front of her when she choreographed her programs. But she knows she has to do some reworking to take full advantage of the new scoring system. Every element has a specific point value under the new system, and there are strict criteria for everything from jumps to spins to spirals.

''There's a lot of things that I'll have to be very aware of, with the spins, with the change of edge, with the spirals, with the turns and the footwork,'' she said. ''I'll probably have a few people come over just to make sure what needs to be done between now and worlds.

''It's crazy because I'm all excited and then I have to think about worlds,'' she added. ''So I'll take this night and enjoy it, hang out with my friends and family and celebrate, and then tomorrow's a different story.''

Before she throws herself back into her work, though, Kwan should take some time to savor all that she's accomplished.

When Vinson won nine titles in the 1920s and 1930s, it seemed like a mark that would stand forever. Not only would a skater need spectacular talent, she'd have to have staying power, too.

Gretchen Merrill, Tenley Albright and Peggy Fleming — they all won multiple titles. But none came close to Vinson.

Until Kwan.

She arrived at her first senior nationals back in 1993, a shy little 12-year-old who wasn't even old enough to wear makeup. Now 24, she's as dominant as ever, with no one in the United States — and few in the world — to challenge her.

Sasha Cohen can't keep herself together when it matters most, falling apart again in the free skate Saturday and finishing second for the fourth time. Bronze medalist Kimmie Meissner bears watching, but doesn't have the presence or the experience yet to make a real run at Kwan.

''I just remember trying to win my first one, and you get the pin that has the diamond on it. Diamond for the first place,'' Kwan said. ''So to get my ninth, I don't know, I have no answer for that. Because I never thought I'd get here.''

Get there, she did. She's won eight straight U.S. titles, and medaled at every nationals since 1994. She hasn't finished worse than third — in any competition — since 1995.

To put her run in another perspective, Meissner was 6 and had just started skating when Kwan won her first title. Now Meissner is 15 and making history of her own, becoming the first U.S. woman since Tonya Harding in 1991 to land a triple axel Saturday.

''Nine incredible national championships,'' Kwan said. ''I don't know, every one is so different and unique.''

But now, like always, it's back to work.

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