Kwan in first place after short program

Posted: Friday, October 25, 2002

SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) -- Not bad for a fill-in.

With only a week's notice, Michelle Kwan pulled off a program that had an entire season's polish, easily winning the short program at Skate America on Thursday night.

''I wish I knew what pressure was so I could understand it and analyze it,'' she said. ''I know as the season progresses and it gets closer to nationals, it gets more tense. This is the most relaxed I've been, and it's nice.

And she did. Her marks ranged from 5.6 to 5.8 for technical merit and 5.8 to 5.9 for artistry. Those were well above what anyone else did -- well, probably. With the new super-secret judging system, no one's really sure of who's getting what.

Originally expected to sit out the season -- or at least skip the Grand Prix events -- after her disappointing bronze medal finish in Salt Lake City, Kwan decided to just go with the flow.

She got a new coach, Scott Williams, and came up with a few programs ''just in case.'' So when she got a call last Friday asking if she'd come to Skate America, she figured, why not?

''Coming here at the last second, I really didn't expect too much,'' she said. ''I guess you don't want to expect too much, but not expect too little.''

Fellow American Jennifer Kirk was second and Viktoria Volchkova of Russia was third.

Though Kwan has been practicing only her short program for two weeks, it was one of the best she's done in recent years. Skating to ''The Feeling Begins,'' an Indian-sounding piece, she looked like she's skating again with her heart, not her feet. That tentative look she had at times last year was long gone.

Her jumps were sure and smooth, and her choreography was impressive. In the last minute, she did a series of quick, fancy steps, flying across the ice as the audience cheered. With sultry, intricate arm movements, she looked as if she were casting a spell.

And the fans were certainly enchanted by her. They gave her a standing ovation as she finished, the only one of the night. She blew kisses as she skated off, and greeted Williams with a big hug.

''I feel pretty good,'' she said. ''I felt really comfortable, really aggressive and calm. I'm just enjoying myself.''

In the pairs, Totmianina and Marinin also appeared to be in midseason form. Skating to ''Morning Suite,'' the silver medalists at last year's world championships moved smoothly from one element to another. Their spiral sequence was breathtaking, as she skated halfway across the rink with her leg extended behind her, never putting it down on the ice as she changed positions several times.

Their throw triple loop jump was huge and she touched down lightly on the ice -- despite still wearing a bandage on her right knee from a training accident this summer.

''Tatiana fell hard. It was not a real injury, but it still hurts the knee,'' Marinin said. ''She's using the bandage to prevent more serious hurt.''

Pang Qing and Tong Jian of China were second, and Canada's Anabelle Langlois and Patrice Archetto were third. U.S. Olympians Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn were in sixth place going into Friday night's free skate, worth two-thirds of the final score.

''We're going to try and follow through more on what we've been doing at home,'' Dulebohn said. ''We've really been skating well in practice and we just have to make it happen.''

In ice dance, Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov of Ukraine were in first place after the compulsory dance. Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov of Russia were second, and U.S. silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto were third.



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