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Hughes Skates in Hershey Challenge

April 17, 2002

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NEW HAVEN, Conn. (AP) _ This wasn’t about the scoring or the number of triple jumps. It was about getting the competitive juices flowing again.

And despite a multitude of obstacles Tuesday night, Olympic champion Sarah Hughes accomplished that.

In her first competition since her stunning victory at Salt Lake City nearly two months ago, Hughes didn’t do anything special. But she wasn’t looking for perfect marks or gold medals in the Hershey’s Kisses Figure Skating Challenge.

``This is a very different format,″ the 16-year-old Hughes said of the team event, which the men’s team won. ``I don’t think there is anything like the Olympics, anyway.

``It was great to be in a little more competitive atmosphere. But it is not a real intense competition.″

Hughes dropped a hint of her future by skating to ``I’ll Never Say Goodbye,″ by Maureen McGovern, a routine she developed for the Champions on Ice show with which she will tour until June. The tour featured her only on-ice appearances since the Olympics.

``That means you’re going to get sick of me,″ she said with a laugh when asked if the song’s title meant she will maintain her Olympic eligibility. Hughes’ coach, Robin Wagner, already is laying plans for next season.

Since the Salt Lake City Games, Hughes has appeared at the Grammys, thrown out first pitches, dropped ceremonial pucks and, last Friday, met with President Bush at the White House. Vice President Dick Cheney recommended her for a program to support the families of soldiers fighting in Afghanistan. Hughes met Cheney at the Olympic gold medal hockey game.

``My life has changed, the things I do on a daily basis have changed,″ Hughes said. ``What I say _ if I mess up _ a lot more people will know about it.

``But there are so many positive things. I don’t think I would have had the White House opportunity if I was not the Olympic champion. I can help other people, not because I am the Olympic champion, but because I want to be involved in groups that help other people.″

Hughes couldn’t help her group, which also included Michelle Kwan, Sasha Cohen, Angela Nikodinov, Jenny Kirk and U.S. pairs champions Kyoko Ina and John Zimmerman, win this event. Hughes, who collected two 6.0s for presentation, hit three triple jumps, but did only a double lutz when her toe pick got caught in the slushy ice.

She wasn’t the only one who had trouble with the mush at the New Haven Coliseum. Kwan, who drew the biggest ovation of the night when she was introduced, puts her hand on the ice as she glides in her Charlotte spiral.

``My hand got soaked, with water spraying in my face,″ she said with a chuckle. ``I brought my snorkeling gear, but the water was a little cold.″

Todd Eldredge pretended to do the backstroke during his warmups. Kwan picked up a toy monkey that was thrown onto the ice, went to hug it and then just went ``Yuck.″

The highest points total of the night went to Eldredge, the only skater to nail a triple axel. He had 59.0 points from the five judges, with one 6.0 for presentation.

Ina and Zimmerman, three-time national champions who won a bronze medal at worlds last month, were second overall with 58.9. They had three perfect marks for presentation for their emotional performance to Elvis Presley’s medley of ``Battle Hymn of the Republic″ and ``Dixie.″

Kwan had the most 6.0s, four. Her 58.8 total was third overall.

The other skaters on Eldredge’s winning team were Olympic bronze medalist Tim Goebel; two-time U.S. champion Michael Weiss; Matt Savoie; Johnny Weir; and four-time national ice dance champions Naomi Lang and Peter Tcherynshev.

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