| ||Monday, February 14|
|CLEVELAND -- There is a girl from Southern California who captivates audiences with her beauty and grace, mesmerizes them with her breathtaking spirals across the ice.
She has the jumps, the spins, the fancy footwork. She might even have a gold medal someday.
And, oh, by the way, her name isn't Michelle Kwan. It's Sasha Cohen.
Welcome to Kwan's nightmare. People finally stop hounding her about Tara Lipinski only to have a new group of mighty sprites start buzzing around her. The 15-year-old Cohen and 14-year-old Sarah Hughes pushed Kwan as hard as they could at nationals, skating with an energy and passion that Kwan's lacked the past two years.But the kiddies weren't perfect. Without the reputation and clout that comes with Kwan's two world titles and Olympic silver medal, they weren't going to be champion, either. "I don't think I would have won ... because Michelle is a world and Olympic skater and very well known," said Cohen, who fell on her final jump. "She has a reputation which I don't have." That reputation is almost as much a curse as it is a blessing these days. Kwan remains untouched in the world in beauty and artistry. While her programs might not be as technically difficult as Russian Irina Slutskaya or some of the kiddie corps, she has enough other tricks to stay on top.
But she set the standard so high for herself with her Salome program in 1996 and her nearly perfect performance at the 1998 nationals that anything less than stupendous becomes a disappointment."I don't think any of you really understand the pressure it takes to defend the national senior ladies title," said her coach, Frank Carroll. "It's not a walk in the park, and I think a lot of times people get the impression that Michelle is just going to walk in here and breeze through the title. "It is very difficult to win, it is very, very difficult to hold and doing it is very, very nerve-wracking."
Kwan knows she has to do something. She pulled her hair back Saturday night "to look younger." She'll throw in some triple-triple combinations. With a lighter load at UCLA and no travel plans before next month's world championships, she'll stay home and concentrate on skating.She'll do whatever she has to do to be the Michelle Kwan everyone knows and loves. "I feel I can raise the bar again," she said. "At my first nationals, it was like, `Oh, she's the jumping bean.' Now, `She's artistic, she's beautiful on the ice.' I want to be well-rounded. "I think that's what's bugging me," she added. "Because I feel like I can do that." If it makes Kwan feel any better, she's not the only one going through this. Michael Weiss won his second national title Saturday night with what might have been his most artistic, solid, well-rounded program ever. Yet there was Timothy Goebel, making history with his quadruple jumps. Not only did Goebel land the first quad ever at nationals, he did three of them.
Also at nationals, Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman won their first pairs crown and Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev won their second straight dance title.
"I feel the same way as Michael. I don't have any kids, but our lives are changing," Kwan said. "He's a father now and I'm going to school. We're busy trying to juggle things with skating and life.
"It's hard to focus all the time on skating. ... It doesn't mean I don't love the sport anymore," she added.
Weiss agreed. Having a wife and two small children might have changed the way he looks at life, but it hasn't made skating any less important to him.
"It's just so amazing to have such a nice balance," he said. "I have an incredible wife and two beautiful children. To be on top in figure skating as well is just an extra bonus for me."
Slutskaya gunning for Kwan
Michelle Kwan wins fourth U.S. title
Kwan will cherish this title
ABC Sports Special feature on Naomi Nari Nam and Sasha Cohen
Michelle Kwan wins Nationals (Courtesy: ABC Sports)