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Friday, 22 February, 2002, 05:26 GMT

Hughes stuns skating world

By BBC Sport Online's James Cowling

American Sarah Hughes has shocked the skating world by upsetting the favourites, her compatriot Michelle Kwan and Russia's Irina Slutkaya, to capture the gold medal in the ladies figure skating competition.

Hughes put in the performance of a lifetime which included seven triple jumps, five in combination, to win the most coveted prize in figure skating.

"It's something I've always dreamed of," said Hughes,who was third at worlds last year behind Kwan and Slutskaya.

Hughes added, "Just to be able to skate tonight. I didn't want to skate for a gold medal. I went out and had a great time. I said, 'This is the Olympics. I want to do the best.'"

And best she was.

Her two stunning triple, triple combinations were very high and almost perfectly executed.

The 16-year-old reigning World bronze medallist won five first place marks to move from fourth to first.

It was a performance that was reminiscent of American Tara Lipinski when she outperformed Michelle Kwan four years ago in Nagano.

The judges awarded her marks of 5.7's and 5.8's for technical merit and a 5.6 up to a 5.8 for presentation.

Slutskaya, like Kwan in 1998, held back and it proved fatal as far as the gold medal was concerned.

She lost the gold by just one judge.

Slutskaya was hoping to be the first Russian to ever win the Olympic title.

However, her silver is the best ever by a Russian or Soviet woman.

She started out well with a triple lutz, double loop combination, but looked a little tense throughout the rest of her four minute routine.

The result brought tears to her eyes.

Kwan, the favourite going into the event, had to settle for the bronze medal.

The 21-year-old is the most artistic, but she was less than perfect when it came to technique.

She touched down on her triple toeloop, double toeloop combination and fell on her triple flip attempt.

Afterwards, Kwan was visibly disappointed with her performance.

She said, "I made a few mistakes. It just wasn't meant to be."

After one of the best ladies short programmes in recent memory, the free programme was somewhat anti-climatic.

With more than half of the ladies performing a clean short, only a few of them rose to the challenge, namely Hughes and Fumie Siguri of Japan.

While ladies event ends the figure skating competitions in Salt Lake City, the exhibition, where the skaters perform for the audience, rather than the judges, takes place on Friday.

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