Kwan's Artistry Wins Over Judges, Crowd

The fans loved her, too. They made sure she heard their squeals of anticipation and support. Surely, she couldn't miss the blinding waves of flashbulbs, even though the announcer already had issued two warnings. The opening strains of the finale to the Piano Concerto No. 3 Rachmaninoff filled the air, and Kwan fluttered into motion. Though Kwan's opening triple Lutz-double toe combo was soft and clean, her jumps didn't have the height of Cohen's or even Hughes'. When the music sped up so she could show off her footwork, Kwan didn't keep up with the rhythm, and her steps were muddy and unarticulated. And her trademark intricate spins weren't as crisp and dizzying as Slutskaya's. But Kwan wove a spell of mystery and emotion, as she always does. And after she skated smoothly out of her final jump, a triple flip, Kwan burst into that joyful smile of hers. When the music stopped, and Kwan held her final pose, the arena erupted. Pumping her fists in the air, she exclaimed, "Go USA!" Cellophane-wrapped flowers fell from the rafters, the love-to-petals ratio decidedly in Kwan's favor. She genuflected for the fans, and then made for the Kiss-and-Cry area. There, she beckoned to her father, who took a seat to her left. She hugged him. As they spoke, she made a violent motion with her left arm, as if to say she had stone-cold killed it. But Kwan gave a thumbs-down and frowned slightly when her technical marks came up low, accurately so, with 5.6's and 5.7's. The sweep of 5.9's for presentation, however, lit up her face again. Though the judges had given her the message that there was still room for improvement, she clapped softly.

Reputation Over Artistry

Some wags grumbled that Cohen's artistry had rivaled Kwan's, but Kwan's reputation won out. There had been a somewhat predictable feel to Kwan's routine, especially when Cohen's seemed so purely wondrous. Perhaps it was telling that Kwan later said, "I was like, 'I'm Michelle Kwan. I've done this a million times.' It was just like another practice." Later, Kwan was her new animated self, playing to the media in the mixed zone. She laughed at the ridiculous notion of getting married in her purple and gold-flecked Vera Wang costume, and giggled at her own breathless anecdotes. She was very clearly at ease. "The patriotism is incredible," she said. "The audience was on fire. And I heard that all the Americans did well, so you must be proud," Kwan said to the American media as she beamed and seemed genuinely thrilled that her teen-age teammates were wowing the judges. "I feel America behind me." Anne Marie Cruz writes for ESPN The Magazine.

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