Kwan masterful defending U.S. title

BOSTON, Reuters

Current world champion Michelle Kwan gave a masterful, dazzling showing which earned seven 6.0s, the mark reserved for perfection, to take the initial round defending her title in the U.S. figure skating Championships on Friday night.

Kwan soared confidently and effortlessly through the eight required elements finishing with her trademark Kwan arabesque. The performance, set to romantic music from the suite East of Eden, was spine-tingling.

“I knew (this performance) was in me,” Kwan said. “I didn’t have great practices (in Boston). One practice (Wednesday) I slipped and hurt myself a little bit but it’s all practice and you leave that behind no matter if you skate well or not.

“I love the music. It inspires me on the ice and when I was out there I just felt really inspired by just being under the lights. It just all came together tonight.”

However, this section is worth only one-third of the event and the 20-year-old Californian must also win Saturday’s freeskating division if she is to claim her fifth national title in six years.

Kwan previously received seven 6.0s in the short program when she won this title in 1998 in Philadephia but was subsequently eclipsed in the Olympic Games by Tara Lipinski, who immediately turned professional.

Kwan’s easy win Friday justified her decision to dump the complicated routine she used earlier this season created by British ice dance legend Christopher Dean, and revert to one with more emotional appeal devised by her longtime choreographer Lori Nichol.

“I had to choose between two great routines,” said Kwan, who had never before changed routines in mid-season.

Kwan’s heir apparent Sarah Hughes, who is ranked fifth in the world, gave a technically smooth and artistically enjoyable performance to stand in second place.

“It’s not easy skating after Michelle,” said Hughes, a 15-year-old New Yorker, “And even harder when she gets 6.0s.”

Last year’s runner-up, Sasha Cohe, withdrew late Wednesday night due to pain resulting from a fractured vertebrae in her back. Ina and Zimmerman win pairs

Later Friday night Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman rebounded from second place after the initial round to win their second straight national pairs title.

Their routine, to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s Variations on a Theme by Paganini, was clearly superior to the rest of the field despite Ina stepping out of a throw triple loop and a near collapse at the end of their 4 1/2 minutes which had them giggling.

“The adrenalin makes you do a stupid mistake like that,” said Ina.

The 1999 champions Danielle Hartsell and her brother Steve, who gave an amazing performance to win Wednesday’s short program section despite his head injury the previous day which required 12 stitches, dropped to third behind Tiffany Scott and Philip Dulebohn.