Kwan mesmerizes Portland audience

The Michelle Kwan of yesteryear appeared in Portland tonight at the 2005 State Farm US Figure Skating Championships. Kwan, who has been skating the same program to different music for the past several years is a recent memory, but tonight, the queen of US Figure Skating dared to reinvent herself with another classy character-driven performance to Spartacus. The crowd in the Rose Garden had waited all night for this moment, and Kwan, skating last did not disappoint. Kwan placed first with unanimous first place ordinals from the judges, and received scores that range from 5.7 to 5.9 for technical merit, and six 5.9s and three 6.0s for presentation.

“I felt excited to debut my short program,” Kwan stated. “It was the first time out, and it felt good.” Kwan meshed together a program so seamless, that when she struck her final pose, many said that they felt like it just began. Kwan opened the program with mesmerizing body movements as if to cast a spell on the audience, and immediately went into a double Axel, of which she held the landing edge for what seemed like an eternity. Next, the leader easily completed her combination of triple lutz to double toe, followed by a powerful triple flip proceeded by footwork that transported you back to the time of the Roman Empire. Kwan’s spiral sequence is always a crowd favorite, and the footwork that she tacked on to the end of it was just as enjoyable.

Kwan’s lack of participation in major events to this point this season have many questioning her commitment to skating as well as her preparedness to compete. “This year I chose not to do the (International Skating Union) Grand Prix series, and I feel fine,” said a composed Kwan. “I’ve competed for many, many years, and there’s nothing that I would change going into the long program.”

Finishing in second place was reigning silver medalist Sasha Cohen, who also debuted her new short program to the Portland crowd. Cohen touched her hand to the ice on the triple lutz-double toe combination, but used blazing spins and balletic choreography to add valuable tenths to her scores. “I was satisfied with my performance tonight,” said a confident Cohen.

Cohen’s program to Dark Eyes began with the error on the combination jump, but she recovered well to complete a sound triple flip and a solo double Axel. Cohen’s spins, however, were the highlight of this program, at one point spinning so fast that she was but a blur of red and sparkly jewels. Cohen received marks of 5.4-5.8 for technical merit, and 5.8-5.9 for presentation.

Cohen last competed in December with a poor result, falling three times in her freeskate at the Marshall’s World Cup of Figure Skating. Later that month, Cohen left her coach, and returned to her roots in California to started training with her former coach, John Nicks. “I’ve matured a lot since (I trained with Nicks) two years ago, and I think that I’m able to use a lot more of what he has to offer,” Cohen declared. “We’ve made a lot of improvements, just really a tremendous amount in just the few weeks that I was there.”

In third place is glamour girl Jennifer Kirk, who performed as Roxy Hart to music from the soundtrack to Chicago. At first, Kirk appeared to be business-like as she tackled her difficult triple lutz-double toe combination, but after she landed her triple flip, Roxy came to life. In her footwork, Kirk transformed the ice into a Broadway stage, and never looked back. Using sassy choreography and a flirtatious grin, Kirk tantalized the audience to their feet at the end of her performance. Kirk garnered scores as high as 5.8 for technical merit and presentation.

In fourth place is rising star Kimmie Meissner, the current World Junior silver medalist. Meissner skating with pep and technical prowess, and could throw a triple Axel into her free program on Saturday. Rounding out the top six are two other up-and-comers, Beatrisa Liang and Katy Taylor, both of whom skated programs worthy of winning a national title in any European nation save Russia.

Skate America Champion Angela Nikodinov was scheduled to compete here, but withdrew yesterday after an automobile accident that took the life of her mother, and hospitalized her coach. Nikodinov released a statement earlier today thanking everyone for their thoughts and prayers. “It puts everything in perspective,” said Kwan at a post-event press conference. “I feel really bad for the family, and I hope for all the best for them.” Prior to the event, organizing officials asked for a moment of silence for the family of Delores Nikodinov.

The ladies championship will be decided on Saturday night at the Rose Garden. And to add to the intrigue, Michelle Kwan is the final skater of the competition.

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