Before the 2002 World Figure Skating Championships, the U.S. was hoping for a sweep of the medals to boost interest in skating before the summer tours and the renewal of the USFSA’s television contract. With three of the top four finishers at the 2002 Olympics competing on home ice and 2002 World champion Irina Slutskaya missing the event to tend to her ailing mother, it looked like a sweep was a lock. But Russia and Japan still posed a strong challenge.
The surprises began in the qualifying rounds. To begin, the draw put all the U.S. ladies in the same group along with Russian champion Elena Sokolova. Michelle Kwan won the group 7-2 over Sokolova, completing six triples including a triple lutz/double toe but only a triple toe/single toe in her second combination. Sokolova landed seven triples including both a triple lutz/triple toe and a triple salchow/triple toe, but she singled a second planned triple loop. “I did two triple-triples for the first time in competition,” Sokolova stated. “Now I won’t be afraid of doing them again. Or maybe even a third combination.”
Sasha Cohen finished third, landing seven triples with three triple-double combinations in her program to Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2. Japan’s Shizuka Arakawa was a surprise fourth, landing a triple lutz-triple toe in her program to the “Titanic” soundtrack even though she was skating with a gold blade on one foot and a silver blade on the other after having boot problems. “My jumps were unexpectedly good today,” Arakawa said. “The placement surprised me.” Even more surprised were Olympic champion Sarah Hughes, who stumbled to sixth and European bronze medalist Julia Sebestyen who could only manage a tenth place.
In the second qualifying group, Japan’s Fumie Suguri took the lead with a four-triple performance to Tchaikovski’s “Swan Lake,” which included a triple lutz/double toe. Canada’s Jennifer Robinson was second with a strong performance to “Suite Populaire Espagnole pour Violin et Piano,,” which included six triples including a triple lutz/double toe but she stepped out of the triple loop in a triple salchow/triple loop combination. “That was awesome,” she said. “That was a personal best.” Russia’s Victoria Volchkova, now back to full strength after a bout with pneumonia, was third. She landed six triples but missed a double Axel and fell on a triple toe loop in her triple lutz/triple toe combination. “It is very positive that I tried the triple-triple for the first time,” she said.
Japan’s Yoshie Onda, who finished fifth last year, had been slowed by an ankle injury and finished only fourth. She was followed by Russia’s Ludmila Nelidina, who was competing in her first Worlds and France’s Anne Sophie Calvez, another newcomer. Italy’s Carolina Kostner, who has been exhausted by a season in which she competed in nine international events as both a senior and a junior, did not have as successful a debut at Worlds as she missed both triple-triple attempts and finished ninth.
The short program was another story. Starting in 18th, Kostner burst out of the gate with a stunning short to Pachabel’s “Canon,” which included a triple lutz-triple toe. Earning mainly 5.3s and 5.4s, it looked like she might win the short until the last few skaters in the final group skated. But she finished fourth overall and vaulted into the final group for the free skate. Kwan won the short, skating to Peter Gabriel’s “The Feeling Begins.” She landed a triple lutz/double toe combination and a triple flip. “I was very determined,” said Kwan, who earned one 6.0 for presentation. “I had my game face on, my poker face”.
Skating to “Samson and Delilah,” Sokolova was second by a 6-3 split after landing a triple lutz/triple toe and a triple flip. “It was not only the best of the season, it was the best of my whole life,” she said of her short program. Suguri finished third, landing a triple lutz/double toe and a triple flip in her program to Chopin’s Piano Concerto Number 2 and gaining a standing ovation from the crowd. Cohen and Volchkova tied for fifth behind Kostner.
Volchkova barely held the landings of her triple flip and the second jump in her triple lutz/double toe combination, while Cohen, skating to “Malaguena,” fell on her triple flip. Robinson, skating in the final group in the short for the first time at Worlds, dropped to ninth. She said, “This is the first time I’ve done this program. We changed it completely after Four Continents.” Onda, Nelidina and Calvez also plummeted out of contention, but Hughes moved up with an eighth-place finish. She skated to Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata in G Minor.
Kwan, using “Aranjuez” by Rodrigo, took the free skate to win her fifth World Championship. She landed all seven planned triple jumps and seemed to pick up speed as the program continued to deafening applause. “It was an unbelievable night for me,” Kwan said. Sokolova, skating to “Notre Dame de Paris,” finished second. She also landed seven triples, including a triple lutz/triple toe. She noted afterwards that she had a knee injury after Europeans and had only been back skating for three weeks before Worlds.
Suguri took her second consecutive bronze medal despite finishing fourth in the free program. She landed five triples, missing only a triple toe loop. Cohen who landed her first triple lutz/triple toe in competition also fell on a triple toe loop, but landed six triples overall. But she also fell out of a spin, which left her no chance to overtake Sokolova for second in the long and a place on the podium. Volchkova landed five triples but did not complete her triple-triple combination to finish fifth. Sarah Hughes had the best skate of her visit to Worlds and pulled up to sixth, while Kostner fell to 11th, tenth overall.