WASHINGTON - Olympic figure skating champion Sarah Hughes looked all grown up in her soft, pale blue costume, and seemed to almost float to the sounds of La Bayad And yet, when Hughes walked out to meet the media yesterday after her qualifying round at the World Figure Skating Championships at MCI Center, she was still smiling.
"It's OK." she said. "It's one program. I'm a fighter and a strong competitor. I have two more programs. Hopefully, I'm going to do better."
At that point, she was fourth in the standings. By the time her half of qualifying was over, she had dropped to sixth. American Michelle Kwan, who seemed to thrive on her popularity and past achievements, was first; the surprising Elena Sokolova, a Russian who is re-establishing her career, turned in two triple-triple (Lutz-toe and Salchow-toe) combinations and secured second ; and American Sasha Cohen, skating a clean program, was third .
Thanks to Hughes" missteps, Shizuka Arakawa of Japan and Elena Liashenko of Ukraine were able to place fourth and fifth, respectively.
In the other half of qualifying, Fumie Suguri of Japan, bronze medalist in the 2002 championships, made a number of small mistakes, but finished first.
"My goal is to make a lot of people happy." Suguri said. "I'm very sad about the war and hope it will make people happy to watch me skate. I just think about the peace of the world."
It was a familiar theme, repeated through the afternoon.
"The war, it just makes you step back and say, "Wow," said Cohen. "When I go out to skate, what is the worst that can happen? I'll fall down. Meanwhile, there are men and women from all over the world risking their lives."
And said Kwan: "It's very hard for skaters to think about skating. We"d rather have peace in the world."
But it is skating that is the story here, and Kwan performed a mostly solid program. She was rewarded for her skill and pre sentation with the best overall scores of the day in both technical merit (5.7 to 5.8) and presentation (5.8 to 5.9), even though she stumbled during a combination and turned a double toe into a single.
"I have no complaints." said the seven-time U.S. champion, who also has four world titles in her resume. "The mistake? It was a lazy thing. It's qualifying."
Qualifying it may be, but Sokolova, who has not competed at the worlds since 1998, when she finished eighth after a seventh- place Olympic performance, was competing as if it were the finals. There was no laziness in her triple-triples, but she wasn't as well rewarded as she might have been. Her scores ranged from 5.6 to 5.9 on both technical merit and presentation.
There was no laziness in Cohen's performance, either, but she wasn't as well-rewarded as Kwan either and registered out right shock when one judge gave her a 5.1 on presentation.
"I've gotten good marks all season not skating as well as this." she said, and then shrugged. "Michelle is a very strong competitor and has been strong for a number of years."
Still, Cohen has no intention of accepting the idea that Kwan is unstoppable here or letting a low mark by a judge derail her own efforts.
"There are thousands of people watching, and you've worked hard your whole life to be here and now you have four minutes to make it or regret it." Cohen said. "You have to be able to block something like that out."
NOTE: A Hungarian figure skating judge was removed from the panel for the women's event yesterday, punishment for being a founding member of the World Skating Federation.
Judit Furst-Tombor was one of 10 chosen to judge Group B in the women's qualifying event at the World Figure Skating Championships. But 15 minutes before she was to report, Furst-Tombor said she received a letter from the president of the Hungarian skating federation withdrawing her from the panel.
Furst-Tombor is "acting against the ISU's constitution." Hungarian federation president Ferenc Batho wrote in a letter to International Skating Union president Ottavio Cinquanta.
The Associated Press contributed to this article.