Verne Lundquist of CBS called this (at the time) the greatest night in ladies' figure skating. Some might say that it was probably an exciting final, while others were disappointed with the outcome. What do you think?
Laetitia Hubert of France had high hopes after beating Tara Lipinski in Trophee Lalique earlier that year, but with a disasterous short, she was in the 2nd group. She managed to land the opening triple lutz in her program (2foot), but doubled and stepped out of the loop that immediately followed the lutz. The salchow that followed after was also doubled. Although her spins and footwork had very unique positions (sometimes the uniqueness took away from the aesthetics, in my opinion), she had pretty good edging. It seems that the air positions were off for her, since she singled the axel and just doubled everything. After the triple toe loop attempt, the commentator (Australian) said--I think she just wants to go home. Her layback would've made Dick Button cringe. She didn't even hold her ending pose.
Shizuka Arakawa was the only entry for Japan that year. Skating to the Red Poppy by Reinhold Gliere, many of her jumps were doubled, and her spins were very slow. Scott Hamilton stated that she still skates like a junior, but one day she will be a great skater. Eight years later...
Julia Lautowa of Austria, who finished 7th at the world championships the year before found herself in the bottom half of the standings after the SP. The LP was her strength when she skated, and it was no different here. She landed most of her jumps, except for the triple loop and the doubled triple salchow near the end of her routine. This would pull her up from 18th to 14th place in the final standings.
Nicole Bobek of the US--she found herself in a deficit after the SP after missing most of her jumps (17th). Even when she began the program, you could tell that usual spark that Nicole had was not there. Her program layout was - 2Z, 3F (stepout), 3R (beautifully landed) into a camel/layback/camel/change foot sit combination. After the triple loop a bit of life came back into Nicole's performance, then a step out on a 2A before the music change (Liebestraum). Layback (beautiful), 3Z (fall; underrotated), 3S (fall), Spiral (spectacular), split into 2T, 2A, scratch spin. She would stay in 17th place.
Lenka Kulovana of the Czech Republic was skating in her fourth Olympics. I think she was the only Carmen in Nagano in ladies that year. Her program had a nice tension, and she landed one of the few clean triple triples (3toe/3toe) that night, which she needed, because she didn't have either lutz or flip planned in her program. Other jumps, like the salchow and the loop would be doubled as well. Back then, since skaters were allowed to throw in jumps to make up for previous attempts, she re-attempted the triple salchow and nearly had to put her hand down. Like another Carmen (Katarina), spinning wasn't her forte. Her layback was slow, and had an OK position. She almost came to a dead stop in her half biellmann. However, her Carmen was actually enjoyable! It was one of the few Carmens that focused more on the Spanish aspect of the story, rather than portraying the story of Carmen. But, she ran out of steam in the end...
Anna Rechnio, who would go on to finish 5th at worlds later that year (a career high for her), had a difficult night in Nagano. SHe missed her opening triple lutz to her La Cumparsita program, and doubled most of everything else. She was a very powerful stroker with very high jumps and well-centered spins. However, with the lessened jump content (she nearly fell out of her single salchow), she finished in 19th. She attempted the triple loop again near the end of the program, made the rotations, but had to put her hand down. I wish she had continued on till 2002...
Tatiana Malinina of Uzbekistan had a good skate, landing perhaps the biggest triple lutz in the competition, and only missing the triple toe. Though she had a rather weakly-choreographed FS to Aladdin, she managed to pull up into 8th place. This was the beginning of her ascent into the top group.
Yelena Sokolova of Russia skated to Happy Feet in a really unusual dress. She also performed one of the clean triple triples (3R/3T) of the competition right off the bat, then doubled the following lutz and flip. She had very cute presentation, but you could tell she was right off the junior ranks. She practically stopped the choreography and stalked the jump so she could land a (2footed) 3Z/2T combination in the middle of her program. She seemed to gain confidence after that, since she landed a triple salchow and a triple loop in sequence. Though her spinning was slow, she hit some cute positions, and the audience was definitely with her. There wasn't much difficult footwork in the program, but she did seem to pick up steam after the lutz. She hit a triple toe/double toe with a minute to go, then two double axels with thirty seconds left.
World Bronze Medalist Vanessa Gusmeroli of France entered the night in 8th place. Although she missed just one jump, her performance (with really strange music cuts) was good enough to pull her into 6th place.
The Final Group--
Michelle Kwan was the first to take the ice after the warmup. Sitting in first place after the SP, she seemed confident and relaxed through the whole program. She landed her opening triple lutz/double toe combination, which she followed up with a triple loop/double toe combination (she took out the 3toe/3toe which hurt her injured foot). This was followed by a triple flip with a slight save on the landing (barely noticeable), and a double axel. Many (including me) found Michelle's spinning to be the weakest aspect of her skating, but her positions (save the layback) were pretty good. She attempts (and beautifully landed) another triple loop--which is rare for her. This was years before her trademark spiral--so her spirals were broken up throughout the program. She borrowed from John Curry's book of spinning in opposite directions, which increased her difficulty. Every other jump was confidently landed, including a triple lutz that was bigger than the one in the beginning. I can see why many thought she had given the winning performance.
Irina Slutskaya of Russia followed Michelle Kwan with a program to a Russian folk song. She managed to fully rotate and save the triple lutz which gave her problems in the short. She attempted her trademark 3S/3R, but only managed a 3R on the end of the combination. Her program had really cute presentation (it fits her style, rather than the dramatic programs she tried), but had a forward landing on the flip. As usual, her spins (even though they sometimes traveled) and her gigantic triple loop were the highlights of the program. She also landed a clean 3toe/3toe towards the end of her program.
Chen Lu of China stood in 4th place after the SP. She lands the opening triple lutz/double toe, but follows that up with a stumble on the triple flip. Lovely choreography. Most of her jumps had slight saves (according to Scott Hamilton she starts her rotations late), but the quality of the program was much higher than most of the girls that skated that night. It was, as some of the commentators said, mesmerizing. Towards the end she attempted (the only time in her career) a triple toe/triple toe. Though the second toe only came around 2.5 times around, it was a great comeback for her. She is the only skater I have seen who changes her jump layout with the program, rather than fitting the music and choreography to the jump layout she is used to.
Surya Bonaly of France entered the night in 6th place. Unlike Lillehammer when she was a contender, this night was not the case. She still had her trademark double axel from the standstill, but without a triple lutz, and falling on the triple salchow, the only thing she could to to make sure people remembered her trip to the Olympics that year was land the backflip towards the end of the program. She did land it on one foot =) She finished in 10th place.
Tara Lipinski of the US just had "I'm happy to be here" written on her face as she took her opening position. She opened her program with what I think is her worst jump--the double axel, which for this competition, seemed bigger than usual. Her triple flip (the one she missed at US nationals) followed. She seemed to be skating with more speed than Michelle, but Michelle's music was slowed, and Tara's was faster. She had a semi-circular footwork in the middle of her program before her trademark triple loop/triple loop. She actually came close to fully-rotating the second loop at this competition (I think the only time she came close to fully rotating the second loop, which is nearly impossible for most skaters due to the jump's mechanics). Though her second lutz wasn't as big as Michelle's, her final jump pass (triple toe/half loop/triple salchow) was more difficult. The triple salchow, though many people do not seem to notice, was saved. Another good performance for the US--the judges had a tough job.
Maria Butyrskaya of Russia would close out the night. She had the bronze medal in her hands, but she seemed to come unglued as soon as she stiffly landed (on 2 feet) her first triple lutz. She fully rotated the triple flip that would follow, but it lacked flow, and was on two feet. Like most Russians, she seemed to do well with edge jumps, but not so much with the toe jumps (flip being a nemesis for her). Her program was beautifully constructed, but it lacked a jump combination. After the straightline footwork, she had planned a triple toe/double toe combination, which was reduced to a double toe.
(Videos available on youtube; I didn't post them here because youtube has been rather touchy when people link their vids)