Kwan starts like champion; shaken Goebel just as formful

THE BALTIMORE SUN

PORTLAND, ORE. - It's Michelle Kwan's world. Other skaters are just passing through.

Kwan is halfway to a record-tying ninth U.S. Figure Skating Championships title after a women's short program last night that brought the crowd at the Rose Garden Arena to its feet.

She received three perfect 6.0 scores in presentation for a routine skated to "Spartacus."

"I was a little nervous," she said afterward. "I had to take my time."

Sasha Cohen had one minor flaw in her routine, touching her hand to the ice on her triple-lutz, double-toe combination. But she executed the rest of her program, performed to "Dark Eyes," flawlessly if not spectacularly.

Cohen finished second, receiving technical scores between 5.4 and 5.8 and presentation scores of 5.8 and 5.9.

"It felt good to be out there," said Cohen, 20, who has battled injuries and recently switched coaches. "I'm always expecting perfect programs, but it's a good start."

Kwan, 24, said skating last of the 18 athletes meant she didn't see any of their performances, but it wasn't that important.

"My biggest competitor is myself. I'm my best friend and my worst enemy," Kwan said.

The women will skate their long program tomorrow night.

Jennifer Kirk is in third place.

Kimmie Meissner of Bel Air finished in fourth. Performing to Debussy's "Reverie," the 15-year-old sophmore at Fallston High School skated a clean routine and received technical scores between 5.2 and 5.6 and presentation marks between 5.1 and 5.6.

"I hit all my jumps. I think I skated pretty good for me," said Meissner, who landed a triple-lutz, double-toe combination.

Although she hit two triple axels in practice, she did not attempt the jump in competition. But she held open the possibility she might perform one in her long program.

"It's a spur-of-the-moment thing," she said, smiling. "If I feel up to it, I might try it."

Ellicott City's Megan Williams-Stewart, skating to the soundtrack from Out of Africa, finished the evening in 10th place.

"I was so happy," said Williams-Stewart. "It was the moment I've been waiting for my whole skating life. It was so much to take in."

The easy part was the skating for Timothy Goebel, winner of the men's short program.

The harder part was keeping his emotions in check as he mourned the death of the mother of skater Angela Nikodinov.

"I've certainly dealt with stressful situations before. This blows anything else out of the water," said Goebel, hands trembling and eyes filled with tears. "I was able to get through it."

Dolores Nikodinov was killed in a car accident Wednesday night on her way from the airport to her Portland hotel. Angela Nokodinov and her father were treated at a hospital and released. Her coach, Igor Pashkevich, was treated for a concussion and kept overnight for observation.

Angela Nikodinov withdrew from the competition.

The two skaters have been friends for years and "shared a special bond," said Goebel, 24, the 2001 U.S. champion and 2002 Olympic bronze medalist. "She will be OK. She's gone through tough times before."

Goebel, who barely finished his program before bursting into tears, learned of the death Wednesday night and was awake for nearly 16 hours before her performed.

But defending champion Johnny Weir, who skated after Goebel, said he knew the "Quad King" was going to be impossible to beat.

"That's the best I've ever seen him skate," said Weir, 19.

Goebel, skating to a Rachmaninov piano concerto, hit a quad-double toe combination and earned technical and presentation scores ranging from 5.6 to 5.9.

Weir hit a triple axel and a triple lutz-triple toe combination for technical scores ranging from 5.3 to 5.8 and presentation scores of 5.7 to 6.0.

Shaun Rogers, 19, of Millersville is in sixth place.

The Associated Press contributed to this article.

U.S. championships

Where: Rose Garden Arena, Portland, Ore.

Today's TV: 2:30 p.m. and 10:30 p.m., ESPN2

Tomorrow's TV: 4 p.m. and 8 p.m., chs. 2, 7

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