She had only skated one clean program since the 1998 Olympics. After placing second in qualifying, and third after the short, she was in the “worst case scenario,”meaning she needed the leader — Maria Butyrskya — to finish 3rd or lower, and she needed to win the Free Skate.
Plus, she was skating first.
Then, the haunting vibrations of The Red Violin swept through the Palais des Exposition and Michelle Kwan crafted, perhaps, the most magical moment of the 2000 World Championships.
Every move was assured, from the opening triple loop, to the stunning triple toe-triple toe combination. Her spins were improved, her footwork was quick and sharp, and her presentation was, well, Kwan-esque.
There was nothing she needed to do in that program that she left undone. No extra turnout on a jump, no slippery edge in a transitional step. Not even a finger misplaced. She skated both the most technically difficult program of the night, and the most emotionally complex program of the night to win her third World title.
Michelle Kwan became the first American woman to reach that mark since Peggy Flemming. Michelle had officially reached legend status.
And, as usual, coach Frank Carroll said it best when he said of Kwan’s forward progress: “That’s the way of sport. You have to continue to make progress, or you’ll get left in the dust.”
The number of ladies who could win this title is a little ridiculous. Between Carolina Kostner, Mao Asada, Ashley Wagner, Akiko Suzuki, Alissa Czisny, and Alena Leonova, things could get a little crazy. But then you throw in Kanako Murakami, Valentina Marchei, Elene Gedevanishvilli, or Viktoria Helgesson, and it gets even more dicey.
Carolina Kostner is, perhaps, the closest thing to a “favorite.” She presents an interesting situation, though. She doesn’t have a triple lutz, and has only recently added a triple flip back into her programs. Some find that terribly unjust, when there are other girls (including Ashley Wagner) using all of the different triple jumps. But, what Carolina has is win-induced confidence. She’s had a stellar season, and she knows it. That could play very nicely into her hands, as she’s the only lady to take the top of the podium consistently all season.
Ma Asada is a former champ. She’s struggled the last few years, dedicating herself to reworking her jump technique. And it shows. She’s back to smiling when she skates, and floating across the ice, and making triple jumps look easy. At least most of the time. She still has a tendency to underrotate jumps, and she gets a little off and pops a jump or two here and there. Asada is talented to the max, but far from consistent.
Alissa Czisny has all the qualities you want in a great champion. All except consistency (yes, I sound like a broken record. There’s an obvious pattern developing here.). To get on the podium, she needs to skate two clean programs. Clean Programs. She can’t miss her jumps, because she doesn’t have the complexity in the choreography to make up for it. As much as her spins wow us, they can’t do all the work. She seems motivated, though, and this could be her time to shine.
Suzuki and Leonova tend to be hit or miss. Akiko has effortlace elegance on the ice. But she can crash and burn on occasion. As can Leonova (who doesn’t share the same elegance in the least).
Despite all of the possibilities, all eyes may be looking towards American champ Ashley Wagner. Not because she’s been there, done that, but because she hasn’t, and yet she notched a score at Four Continents that put the rest of the world notice — she has arrived. And with even more planned difficulty in Nice, could she take her third title in a row?
There is a part of me that wants to go all in, to believe in the improbable. She’s charming me more and more with each competition, and it would do my heart good to see her win. But, there’s too much unpredictability in this event to call it her way just yet.
In fact, calling it at all is almost pointless but, here’s my attempt.
Gold — Carolina Kostner
Silver — Ashley Wagner
Bronze — Mao Asada
Fourth –Alissa Czisny
*And yes, America regains the third team spot
Who will take the challenge head-on and who will get left in the dust? However it unfolds, I hope we’re graced with at least one program that sticks in our minds the way Michelle’s The Red Violin has.