Michelle Kwan paced back and forth behind the curtains just outside the rink. Though her guiding principle has been to relax and enjoy each moment of these Games, the stress of competition finally pierced through.
Kwan was about to take the ice for her warm-up period, her short program only minutes away with two of her most tenacious rivals sharing this small room with her. Irina Slutskaya and Maria Butyrskaya seemed equally worried, unable to stand still.
Kwan's father, Danny Kwan, pensively observed her as she and the Russians spun across the ice. He leaned up against the skater's entrance to the rink, his hands clasped, perfectly still except to tilt his head to track his daughter's movements.
To add to the anxiety, Kwan's teammates, Sasha Cohen and Sarah Hughes were 1-2 in the standings, having already skated solid programs. Cohen was calmly graceful, her jumps fluid and natural, while Hughes also managed a clean program, though it lacked Cohen's elegance.
Bringing Their Best
Clearly, the women were unveiling their best.
This would not play out as it did with the men, when gold-medal favorite Evgeni Plushenko stole away most of the suspense by falling during the first jump of his short program.
After Butyrskaya's marks were announced, placing her in third, Slutskaya listened intently to final reminders from her coach. Her determined frown morphed into a stage smile as she glided toward the center of the ice. Her jumps were effortless and her spins were tornado-like, devastatingly fast and focused. She was rewarded with mostly 5.8's for her technical marks and a couple 5.9's for presentation. She now sat in first place, with Cohen and Hughes in second and third, respectively.
With one more skater to go before her, Kwan paced again just outside the door of the rink. Her dad held a bottle of water, but she took only a couple of swigs. While Julia Soldatova performed her perfunctory routine, Kwan fidgeted in a show of jerky puppetry as she swung her forearms to and from her torso. As the polite applause for the skater from Belarus started, Kwan eagerly skated onto the ice.
She circled the oval, floating across its glistening surface. Occasionally, she toyed with her skates, bending down to check her laces and flipping her feet up to scrape the ice off her blades. Then Kwan glided over to her father. When her name was announced, she grasped his hand tightly, and absorbed his final words of advice: Just go out there and have fun. As she let go of his hand, he said, "I love you."
Weaving a Spell on the Ice