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OLYMPICS HELENE ELLIOTT

More Than Medal at Stake for Hughes

March 14, 2003|HELENE ELLIOTT

Harvard said yes a while ago and Yale recently gave Sarah Hughes "some good news," but it won't tell even an Olympic figure skating gold medalist before April 1 if she will be allowed to enter its ivy-covered halls.

While she ponders those choices and finishes her senior year at Great Neck North (N.Y.) High, she's also preparing for the world championships, which she skipped last year while riding the exhilarating wave of her stunning victory at Salt Lake City. Her performance at the world competition, to be held March 24-30 at the MCI Center in Washington, will factor into her decision about college and whether she'll continue competing at an elite level.

Hughes, 17, trains in Hackensack, N.J., near her Long Island home. She could continue that routine if she attends Columbia, but her coach, Robin Wagner, won't disrupt her own life to follow Hughes out of the area.

A good performance at the world competition could allow Hughes to walk away without regret -- and with the distinction of having returned to compete this year after winning the sport's ultimate prize. A leg injury early this season kept her out of the Grand Prix series, but she fought for a solid second-place finish behind Michelle Kwan at the U.S. championships in January. Her best finish at the world championships was third in 2001, behind Kwan and Irina Slutskaya.

"I've always been interested in having a well-rounded life, and I have interest in going away and living in a dorm," Hughes said Thursday. "The world championships will be an important time for me in finalizing my decisions. I have been incredibly busy since the Olympics, which totally changed my life."

Hughes said she's fine physically and is prepared for the heightened expectations that accompany her gold medal.

"There's always a certain pressure from myself to improve," said Hughes, who plans to add a difficult triple salchow-triple loop combination jump to her long program at Washington. "The Olympics was one event, and it was a great experience for me, and I felt that with everything people had put into me -- my coach, my parents, the community -- it was nice to repay them. Now, I feel whatever I do is certainly extra."

Wagner acknowledged Hughes isn't at the level she reached at the Olympics, where her technically demanding and artistically pleasing program carried her past flawed performances by Slutskaya and Kwan.

"I'd have to say [her practices] haven't been as intense as I would like them to be," Wagner said. "It's been hard for Sarah to get her momentum going this year.... Sarah has always performed her best performances at the end of the year. There's so much up in the air. It's not easy with so many life decisions up in the air. But knowing the kind of competitor she is I know she'll put out her best programs at worlds."

Going for the Gold

U.S. athletes will take seven world-best marks into this weekend's world indoor track and field championships in Birmingham, England.

Pole vaulter Stacy Dragila, who set a women's indoor record of 15 feet 8 1/4 inches (4.78 meters) at the U.S. championships, will go head to head for the first time this season with Russia's Svetlana Feofanova, whose best vault is a centimeter less. Regina Jacobs, five months shy of 40, set a world indoor record of 3 minutes 59.58 seconds for the 1,500 this year but faces tough competition from Russia's Natalya Gorelova. Gail Devers set a U.S. record of 7.74 seconds in the 60-meter hurdles March 1 and is likely to add an indoor title to her three world outdoor titles.

Among the men, Justin Gatlin was timed in a world-leading 6.45 seconds in the 60-meter dash last month, but compatriot Terrence Trammell (6.48) is expected to challenge him. Trammell will also compete in the 60-meter hurdles, where his best time this year of 7.42 seconds is close to world leader Allen Johnson's 7.39.

In field events, world shotput leader Kevin Toth has a toss of 71 feet 2 1/2 inches, and triple jumper Tim Rusan won the U.S. indoor title with a surprising leap of 57 feet 3 inches.

King of the Hills

Austria's Stephan Eberharter won the last super-giant slalom World Cup race of the season Thursday in Kvitfjell, Norway, and the overall World Cup title, ending a spirited competition with Bode Miller of Franconia, N.H.

Miller was 20th on the Olympic course and earned no points, leaving him 273 points behind Eberharter with two races left. "I've had a lot of really great races this year," said Miller, who didn't miss a race and plans to compete in the final giant slalom and slalom. "As with anything, there are ups and downs, but I'm not at all disappointed in the season overall....

"Stephan is an amazing skier. He's been criticized a lot in the past for not having enough to finish out the season strong, but he surely has changed that."

Daron Rahlves of Sugar Bowl, Calif., injured his left hand on the upper part of the course and didn't finish, but U.S. Ski Team officials said he will compete Saturday.

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