MINNEAPOLIS — Once again, it wasn't her best. This time, it was good enough.
Michelle Kwan didn't quite nail everything Saturday night in the free skate in the World Figure Skating Championships. But with Tara Lipinski and Lu Chen, the other medalists from the Olympics, not competing, Kwan's performance still swept the judging panel.
Kwan won her second world championship in three years with a so-so free skate marred by two errors. The 17-year-old American did display some of the passion she lacked in her long program at Nagano, where she was runner-up to Lipinski.
"I had a little nerves, but I was able to pull myself together at the end," she said. "I had a few wobbles, but I was very proud of myself that I did the triple lutz at the end. I said, 'I've got to nail this jump. Let's go.' And I powered through it and I landed it."
It wasn't close to her near-perfect program in the nationals in January. Perhaps Kwan sensed that neither of the Russians who finished behind her, Irina Slutskaya or Maria Butyrskaya, presented much of a challenge.
Nor did Poland's Anna Rechnio, who slipped from second after the short program to fifth. Or France's Laetitia Hubert, who dropped from third to fourth.
"During my performance, it was four minutes of thinking," Kwan said. "After I made two mistakes, I knew I had no more options but to do everything else."
Kwan had one 6.0 for artistry in her short program Friday. She got seven 5.9s on Saturday, but a fall on a double axel and a triple salchow she cut to a double actually left room for one of her competitors to fly past her.
Instead of flying, though, most of them crashed.
Butyrskaya thought it was logical that she and Slutskaya finish in the medals.
"Those two medal-winners from the Olympic Games are not here," she said of Lipinski and Chen, "and we were fourth and fifth. So like in ice dance, we should move up."
The other American, Tonia Kwiatkowski--the replacement for Lipinski, who missed the worlds because of fatigue and a viral infection--was sixth. It was Kwiatkowski's final appearance before turning pro.
The combined finish for Kwan and Kwiatkowski assured the United States three women's spots in next year's worlds at Helsinki. The Americans also will have three men and three pairs, but only one dance team.
Kwan was the only American champion in the worlds. Russia won the other three disciplines.
Kwan, who earned $50,000 for her championship, plans to continue in eligible skating through the 2002 Olympics.