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ON THE ICE

Ice Is the Canvas for These Artists

January 13, 2002|PAUL WYLIE

In order to understand what makes a terrific figure skater, you have to look at the whole picture. You have to look at what makes a picture a painting, what makes a painting a work of art and what makes a work of art a masterpiece.

Content is important. But, in figure skating, you can't just count the triple jumps, subtract the falls and other mistakes and determine the winner. It is the intangibles that creates figure skating stars and perhaps Olympic medalists.

When Michelle Kwan does an inside spiral and causes 18,000 people at Staples Center to roar in spontaneous approval. ... When Sasha Cohen does inside half axel turns and sliding extensions with her legs at 180 degrees perfectly split....

They can both turn a painting into a work of art, and maybe even a masterpiece, and Sarah Hughes is quickly developing that potential. They provided us with a phenomenal night of skating in the women's long program Saturday night, these three women holding it together while battling each other with berths on the Olympic team at stake.

Kwan, although she deserved to win, did not produce a masterpiece. But she is a master. She has such great confidence, smiling in mid-air on her triple flip. Her whole program is subtle and elegant and the presentation is mature. She has the intangibles, that undefinable it.

She didn't complete her triple-triple combination Saturday night, doubling the second jump, but if she can hit the second triple in Salt Lake City, that will provide the spark that could transform her long program into a truly electric performance and make it extremely difficult for anyone to beat her.

Cohen is the most innovative of the three. Everything about her long program was fresh and exciting. She is a huge threat in Salt Lake City to the women, the Russians Irina Slutskaya and Maria Butyrskaya and even Kwan, who got used to not seeing her last year because of her back injury.

Hughes has incredible landings. She goes from the air to the landing position with no hitch. The surety of her landings on her high jumps enables you as a member of the audience to relax when she is in the air because you never have the feeling she is going to fall.

You never see the ice chips shoot out from her blades on her landings.

She has all the technical elements, and the emotional side to her skating is coming together.

All three have got to be excited at night when they go to bed, thinking about their possibilities in Salt Lake City. Kwan has positioned herself as a favorite for the gold medal, but the other two are right there with her. It is a very strong Olympic team.

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