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On This Date in Sports February 21, 2002: Sarah from Long Island

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Sarah Hughes, a 16-year-old High School Junior from Great Neck, New York, stuns the world and captures a Gold Medal in Figure Skating at the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City. It was more disappointment for fellow American Michelle Kwan, who settled for the Bronze Medal. Hughes won the Gold Medal with a pair of triple jump combos. Irina Slutskaya of Russia grabbed the Silver Medal.   

Born on June 7, 1980, in Torrance, California, Michelle Kwan seemed destined to be an Olympic champion. The daughter of Chinese immigrants, she began training when she was eight. She would practice eight times a day as she often woke up at 4:30 in the morning. In 1993, Michele Kwan competed in her first senior championship, finishing sixth. As she began to mature, Kwan became to become a contender. She took the Gold Medal at the 1996 World Championships in Edmonton. Heading into the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, Michelle Kwan was the favorite to win the Gold Medal. However, Tara Lapinski who won the 1997 World Championship in Lausanne, Switzerland, took the Gold as Kwan settled for Silver. 


Michelle Kwan recovered and won the 1998 World Championships in Minneapolis. After a Silver Medal in 1999 at Helsinki, Kwan won her third World Championship Gold Medal in five years at Nice, France. In between, she took home the Silver and went into the 2002 games needing just an Olympic Gold to complete her career resume. 

Sarah Hughes was born on May 2, 1985, in Great Neck, New York. Her father was the captain of the 1970 NCAA Hockey National Championship team from Cornell. Attending public schools on Long Island, Sarah Hughes would skate after school. She first took the ice at the age of three, and it seemed natural. She won the U.S. Junior National title in 1998 and appeared to be on the rise as the new century arrived. In 2001 she won the Bronze Medal in Vancouver, as Michelle Kwan won a second straight Gold Medal at the World Championships. 

Sarah Hughes was considered to be the longshot of the three American skaters in Salt Lake. Michelle Kwan was seen as the favorite as most expected a coronation coming. Sasha Cohen of the United States was also a contender. After the short program, Kwan was in first, Irina Slutskaya of Russia was in second, while Cohen was third ahead of Hughes, who was not in medal position. In the final, Kwan ran a flawed program, making too many errors to overcome, as the chance for a Gold Medal slipped away. Slutskaya had victory in her grasp but was also clumsy in her performance. This all helped Sarah Hughes, who had the performance of her life, to leap from fourth to first to win the Gold Medal. 

Sarah Hughes would retire one year later, winning the James Sullivan Award for top amateur athlete.