SALT LAKE CITY -- Another American teen-ager is wearing the Olympic gold medal that was supposed to belong to Michelle Kwan.
Sarah Hughes, with the performance of her young life, soared from fourth place to win the free skate and the title Thursday night in one of the biggest upsets in Olympic figure skating history.
While Hughes played the same role as Tara Lipinski four years ago, Kwan made two major mistakes to fall to third, behind Russian Irina Slutskaya, who won the silver medal.
''I skated for pure enjoyment,'' the 16-year-old Hughes said. ''That's how I wanted my Olympic moment to be.''
It was a moment that stunned nearly everyone -- including the New Yorker who was sitting in the dressing room when Kwan and Slutskaya fell off the top spot in the podium with ordinary programs.
''I think a lot of people counted me out and didn't think I could do it,'' Hughes said. ''I didn't even think it would be possible, so just to be sitting here with this medal around my neck, I didn't think it could happen.''
When the final marks were announced, her coach, Robin Wagner, dragged Hughes off a bench onto the floor as both women screamed and tears began flowing.
''We were both so shocked, because it wasn't even on the radar screen,'' Wagner said.
Hughes is a year older than Lipinski was at the Nagano Games. She also was a much longer shot to win because Lipinski owned a world title in 1998. Hughes' best was a bronze at last year's world championships.
And Kwan is a far more accomplished skater now, with four world and six U.S. titles.
''I think I was a little more disappointed in Nagano, just because I skated much better,'' Kwan said. ''Tonight it was one of those things. I don't know what didn't go my way.''
Kwan lost again because a skater's final total is reached by adding ''factored placements'' for both the short and long programs. Until Slutskaya skated, Kwan's combined score would have been enough to beat Hughes.
But Slutskaya's performance in the free skate earned her second and pushed Kwan into third.
''I have experienced so much the last four years,'' Kwan said, ''and I realized it doesn't matter the color of medal.''
But then she showed off a plastic gold medal she was given by 1976 gold medalist Dorothy Hamill.
''I know it's not as heavy as this one,'' she said, comparing Hamill's gift to the real thing. Then looking at the elusive gold, she added, ''This is the color of medal I would have liked.''
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