LAKE PLACID, N.Y. // This is the second time figure skater Emily Hughes has answered the bell.
The first time was just before the 2006 Olympics, when Michelle Kwan pulled up lame and Hughes substituted for her and finished seventh.
This time it was 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen dropping out of Skate America with an injury. Hughes didn't hesitate.
"It was kind of like an Olympic moment again," she said after practice Friday afternoon. "I had my programs set. I was training constantly. For Skate America, why not?"
After the 2007 season, Hughes put competitive skating on hold, broke up with longtime coach Bonni Retzkin and went to Harvard University.
Injuries kept her from 2008 and 2009 U.S. Nationals.
Watching U.S. Nationals with her roommate, Hughes got the urge to compete again. Putting school on hold, she contacted Retzkin and moved back to Long Island, N.Y.
"It was hard coming back," she acknowledged. "I expected to be as good at I was two years ago right away. At first, I was doing double axels, at most. It was rough getting back my triples."
Retzkin likened the process to "a puzzle, putting the pieces together."
Hughes dug out the Olympic ring given to all athletes and placed it on her right hand "as a motivational tool."
The skater finished second at the North Atlantic regional qualifier for U.S. Nationals last month and was supposed to compete at Eastern sectionals on Nov. 17-22, when Skate America intervened and earned her a bye.
Hughes is a long shot both at Skate America, where the women skate Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, and at U.S. Nationals in January.
"You set small goals and achieve small goals," said Hughes. "I'm in a good place for early November."
2009 Skate America
* Skate America TV schedule (bottom of article)