With the lack of Tara Lipinski and Lu Chen at this Worlds, it was assumed at the start of the week that Michelle Kwan would coast to an easy victory in the ladies event, But several ladies stepped up to the challenge and made her work for the victory.
Kwan led off the last warmup group and skated a strong program, better in some respects than her Olympic performance, but still not reaching the level of her U.S. Nationals victory. She made two small errors, but skated with more passion than she did in Nagano. In her opening series of jumps she stepped out of the last jump, a double Axel, and then fell. Mid-way through the program she doubled a triple Salchow, but fought back to land a triple Lutz and a closing triple toe loop. She receive first marks of all 5.7 and second marks of 5.8 and 5.9. It was a gold medal caliber performance, but it was still potentially beatable.
Anna Rechnio could not sustain the level of her qualifying round performance and short program, landing three of six triples, stepping out of one and putting a hand down, doubling another, and falling on a third. She dropped for second to sixth in the process.
Laetitial Huber, who wanted to prove that the older skaters could still get the job done this year almost did. She landed four triples, including the Lutz and loop, but was bedeviled by the Salchow and the toe loop. Despite three errors in the program, it was still a respectable performance which could have earned a medal depending on how the Russian ladies would skate later in the group. As it turned out, it did not hold up and she dropped from third to fourth, just out of the medals.
The Ukrainian Champion, Elena Liashenko, skated next, attempting a difficult program with seven triples. She got into trouble on her first combination, landing a triple Lutz too close to the wall to throw the double toe loop. She went on to land three more triples but made errors on three others and fell on her closing double Axel, dropping one place in the long, to seventh overall.
The final two skaters were the two Russian ladies, Butyrskaya and Slutskaya.
Maria Butyrskaya went first, and fought for every jump until the last minute of the program. Up to that point she had landed six triples, but in a spiral sequence she tripped while skating backwards and fell on her butt. She was momentarily disoriented, and with a sheepish grin she was forced to leave out a planned triple loop, and was still a bit rattled for her last jump, a double Axel, which she stepped out of. Despite these problems, the majority of the program was well done and she received a standing ovation for her effort which temporarily put her in second place.
The closing skater, Irina Slutskaya, has struggled off and on for the last 18 months, but tonight was in command of her destiny. She landed six of seven triples including two triple-triple combinations. She landed triple Salchow - triple loop with a turn on the loop landing, and a triple toe loop - triple toe loop with a smaller version of the same error. Her only major problem was a fall on triple flip. Her first marks were one to two tenths higher than Kwan's but was placed behind on the second mark to win the silver.
In order for the U.S. to qualify three places for next year it was necessary for Tonia Kwiatkowski to place in the top 12. She was eighth after the short program and in the long she moved up tow places to sixth, her best results at a World championships and a memorable way of ending her eligible skating career. She had one of her best skates of the year, with only two very minor errors, a slightly weak landing edge on a triple flip and a small reach on a triple loop. She received an enthusiastic standing ovation from the audience.
Germany's Tanja Szewczenko started out strong but mid-way through her program faltered and could not sustain her performance. She made numerous errors in the second half of her program and was clearly drained by the end of the performance. She has been beset by a long history of illnesses which have played havoc with her training and ability to compete.
In her first World Championships, Elena Sokolova did not fare quite as well as she did at the Olympics. With an eighth place result she moved up from 13th in the short to eight overall. She landed six triples including a triple Salchow - triple loop jump sequence, but the glue of the program was weak and she skated lethargically. All-in-all, however, it has still been a good year for her in her first year at this level of competition.
Michelle Kwan won the short program with a clean skate that earned one mark of 6.0 in the second mark (from the Canadian judge). She received 8 first place ordinals. The only flaw in her program was a very brief and minor wobble on the landing edge of her double Axel. Otherwise she was incomplete command.
Anna Rechnio continued her surprisingly strong showing here. After a good showing in the qualifying rounds, she continued in the short program with a clean skate to "Tara's Theme" from Gone With the Wind. She landed triple Lutz - double toe loop and triple loop. Her presentation earned her one of the two standing ovations of the afternoon.
Skating last, Laetitia Hubert placed third with one of the two triple toe loop - triple toe loop combinations of the day. She put a hand down on triple flip, but with many of the other ladies missing their combinations she was able to take third place despite the error.
All three Russian ladies missed their combinations. Butyrskaya popped triple Lutz, and both Slutskaya and Sokolova fell on that same jump. With her strong signature spins and an otherwise strong skate, Slutskaya took fourth. Butyrskaya, who also dragged a toe on the checkout of double Axel ended up on fifth.
Tonia Kwiatkowski gave a fine performance of her "Madame Butterfly" routine, but a step out of triple Lutz in her combination consigned her to eight place. She landed triple flip and the double Axel and her closing layback spin was a beauty. She has a reasonable chance of moving up in the long program if she stands up.
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