2003 US Figure Skating Championships: Highlights
Michelle Kwan, a veteran of eleven senior nationals at the ripe old age of 22, won her sixth consecutive title in grand fashion. Not since Tara Lipinski has Kwan been dethroned at home. Nursing a slight back injury, Kwan did not include a triple-triple combination in her winning free skate to “Aranjuez,” yet she won the competition without so much as losing an ordinal. Kwan was awarded a perfect mark of 6.0 for presentation despite having to skate in the unenviable position of first after the warmup. She landed a total of six triple jumps, including two lutzes, to hold off an upstart of teenagers battling her for the title.
Perhaps the most famous of those teenagers, seventeen-year-old Olympic gold medalist Sarah Hughes, finished a satisfying second after a season of uncertainty. Hughes missed her Grand Prix events due to a strained muscle and performed only adequately at two pro-am appearances in December. Hughes completed just five triple jumps in her free skate and did not attempt either of the triple-triple combinations that won her the gold medal in Salt Lake City. However, Hughes skated her short and free program without error and actually moved up a spot from her third-place finish at Nationals last year.
The U.S. lady with the most success on the Grand Prix, Sasha Cohen, crashed and crumbled in her free skate. After a promising opening to her free skate, Cohen fell on a triple toe loop and made errors on her two remaining jumps. Cohen looked tight throughout the entire competition and made a number of small errors in both the short and long program. Often thought to be one of the most talented skaters in the sport, Cohen has also developed a reputation for being one of the most inconsistent. She just edged out up and comer Ann Patrice McDonough, who landed seven triple jumps in her free skate, for the third and final berth on the U.S. world team.
The men’s event was far less stellar. 1999 and 2000 U.S. National Champion Michael Weiss backed his way into a third title without landing a clean triple Axel or a clean quad in either program. Weiss fell on an opening quadruple lutz, two-footed subsequent a quadruple toe loop attempt, and did a double Axel in place of a scheduled triple Axel. Though the remainder of his program was clean, it included just five triple jumps – content that would not leave him in medal contention at the World Championships in March.
2001 U.S. Champion Timothy Goebel planned four quadruple jumps in his free skate and ended up landing none of them. Sidelined by injury, Goebel missed his fall Grand Prix events and has been playing catch-up ever since. He skated a solid if unremarkable short program to take the lead; however, repeated errors in the free skate dropped him to third in that phase of the competition and second overall.
A surprise bronze medalist, Ryan Jahnke of Colorado Springs, rounded out the podium with a lyrical free skate to “Cinderella” that included just five clean triple jumps. Last year’s champion Todd Eldredge, 31 years old and now touring with Stars on Ice, likely could have won the title even with the reduced content of his show skating programs.
Johnny Weir of Newark, Del. finished an impressive second in the short program, but was literally derailed by a close encounter with the boards in the free skate. Weir was granted a restart by the event referee but ultimately withdrew after another freak fall less than a minute later. Matt Savoie, a two-time bronze and two-time pewter medalist, had a run in with the boards as well. After hitting the boards on the back half of a triple flip-double toe combination, Savoie’s pant strap came undone and was dangling next to his skate. The event referee blew her whistle three times before Savoie heard her and stopped his program.
Strange fascinations were also the story of the ice dance event. Defending champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev ended up winning their fifth consecutive title despite Lang falling to her knees during the required straight-line footwork. Challengers Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto looked ready to take the title after winning the original dance with near-unanimous ordinals, but two freak mistakes in the free dance ended any hope of a gold medal. The bronze medalists, Melissa Gregory and her husband Denis Petukhov, had costume problems that left much of Gregory’s upper body exposed during various parts of their free dance.
Last – and certainly least – was the pairs event, which Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn won largely by default. Scott fell on her solo triple toe loop and later on the throw triple toe loop. She also touched her hand to the ice on a throw triple salchow. Their seven years of experience together showed in their basic stroking and refinement, and on a night when no one else skated cleanly, three mistakes was good enough for gold.
Kathryn Orscher and Garrett Lucash of Connecticut completed side-by-side triple toe loops and two throw triple jumps to earn the silver medal, their first at a national championship. Joining them on the U.S. world team will be Rena Inoue and John Baldwin, Jr. of California. Inoue and Baldwin completed two sets of side-by-side double Axels and a throw triple salchow in order to pull from fifth in the short program to third overall.