Olympian Sarah Hughes
Michelle Kwan landed a triple jump on her butt and Irina Slutskaya decided to play it safe. That opened the door for 16 year-old Sarah Hughes to win the gold in women's figure skating at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City.
All the talk before the final skate was about the great rivalry between American Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskaya of Russia. Sarah was in fourth place before the final skate so no one really expected her to win - including Sarah. "I think a lot of people counted me out and didn't think I could do it. I didn't even think it would be possible, so just to be sitting here with this medal around my neck, I didn't think it could happen," said Sarah, after winning the gold.
Sarah's final skate was nearly perfect and featured seven triple jumps - more than any other skater. When Michelle Kwan forgot that triple jumps landed on skates score more points than jumps landed on your butt, the gold medal race was wide open. With some help from the bizarre figure skating scoring system, which makes understanding trigonometry or memorizing the capitals of eastern European seem easy, Sarah was awarded the gold medal based on the strength of her long program.
The figure skating world has been taking notice of Sarah since 1998 when she won the US Junior Figure Skating Championships at the age of 12. She qualified for the World Championships the next year where she finished seventh. She made it to the podium for the first time at the 2001 Worlds where she took the bronze - finishing behind Irina and Michelle. A year later, the three skaters would still be the ones standing on the podium together - but Sarah would be the one at the top, wearing the gold medal.