An article in the Oct. 22 Sports section incorrectly indicated that former Olympic figure skating champion Sarah Hughes is competing in the Stars on Ice tour. Hughes is a full-time student at Yale. (Published 10/25/2005)
She had just flubbed her program so thoroughly she couldn't get off the ground on one planned jump. She fell attempting two others. After the debacle, water glistened on the ends of her mascara-thickened eyelashes, but Emily Hughes clung resolutely to her smile.
She refused to let the optimistic pitch escape her voice. Asked to explain her disappointing performance on Day One of her first major senior international event, the younger sister of 2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes audibly sucked in air and paused for a moment, then popped her head up gleefully.
"I started out well!" Emily Hughes, 16, blurted out, and dissolved into giggles.
Hughes's program went downhill fast after a successful triple-flip jump Friday at Skate America at Boardwalk Hall. She landed in eighth place with 38.74 points after the short program, seemingly out of reach of the podium entering Saturday's deciding free skate. Russia's Elena Sokolova earned the top spot with 57.94 points and Japan's Yoshie Onda finished second with 53.90. Americans Alissa Czisny (52.82) and Beatrisa Liang (47.54) rounded out the top four.
"I'm really disappointed, but sometimes you have a bad day," Hughes said. "I'm looking forward to [Saturday]."
Despite Friday's performance, Hughes's season still bubbles with possibility, suspense and intrigue. It also, apparently, will be draped with the elongated grins that look so eerily familiar. She shares her sister's build, her sister's face, her sister's grace, her sister's laugh, her sister's voice. She even bites her lip like Sarah did. Could she share her sister's track to the Olympics? Sarah Hughes advanced through skating more quickly, competing successfully on the senior circuit at age 14, but she wasn't considered a favorite in Salt Lake City, where she jumped from fourth to first place on one stunning night.
Emily Hughes wasn't supposed to be here. She was scheduled to attend a considerably less prestigious regional U.S. qualifier. But her father got a call after Michelle Kwan, a two-time Olympic medalist, pulled out of this event with a hip injury. Hughes couldn't say yes fast enough.
"Injuries are unfortunate," she said. "I got here because of a pull-out. But I'm going to take it one day at a time right now."
Hughes's emergence last spring -- she claimed the bronze at the world junior championships -- and recent injuries to Kwan and Sasha Cohen, who also withdrew from this event because of a hip problem, seem to have enlarged what once looked like long odds of Hughes's claiming one of the three available U.S. Olympic figure skating team slots for women, which will be awarded at the U.S. championships in January.
Few expected Emily Hughes to be on the podium at the junior world championships, especially after finishing sixth at last year's U.S. senior nationals, but she produced the best finish by an American, topping the more highly regarded Kimmie Meissner, who was fourth, along with Czisny, who was sixth.
"I try to get better every time I go on the ice," she said. "I think I've improved and I hope to improve more."
Her season got underway slowly after a horrific August, during which she took a month off from skating and spent a week in the hospital because of a bout with viral meningitis. And she, like her big sister did four years ago, continues to attend high school at Great Neck (N.Y.) High while training daily. Emily said she can live with the constant comparisons to her sister, who is attending Yale while competing on the Stars on Ice figure skating tour.
"It's not bad being compared to the Olympic gold medalist," she said. "She's my sister and I look up to her."
Notes: Japan's Daisuke Takahashi, who finished 15th and 11th at the last two world championships, won his first major international senior title after finishing first in a free skate competition that did not feature a single successful quadruple jump. Takahashi, 19, accrued 218.54 points over two days, topping American Evan Lysacek (193.71) and France's Brian Joubert (190.28). American Tim Goebel, who trains in Fairfax, finished sixth with 154.68 points. . . .
The U.S. ice dance team of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto stood in first place as expected after Friday's original dance, but they remain uncertain about whether this season will lead to an Olympic opportunity or another disappointment.
Belbin, a Canadian who is scheduled to receive her U.S. citizenship in 2007, hopes a furious effort by Michigan legislators and U.S. Olympic Committee President Peter Ueberroth to expedite the process will be successful by the end of this year.