MOSCOW—She had been weepy and undone all day, the stress, the stage fright and the medicines knocking her silly right before Saturday's finale of the World Figure Skating Championships.
But Irina Slutskaya, the ailing hometown girl, the wife of a Moscow gym teacher, the skating dowager of 26, pulled off "the best performance of my entire life" to win the gold medal in convincing fashion.
Sasha Cohen of Laguna Niguel, Calif., took the silver medal, repeating her finish at last year's Worlds. Not a bad way of celebrating, at age 20, the publication next week of her autobiography.
Carolina Kostner of Italy was a surprising third, just 37-hundredths of a point ahead of five-time world champion Michelle Kwan of Torrance, Calif.
Kwan, 24, seemed wholly unsettled by skating's new scoring system, which was adopted after a judging-conspiracy scandal at the 2002 Winter Olympics.
This was Kwan's first event under the complicated new system, which assigns arithmetical values to specific jumps, spins and other technical maneuvers. Calculus, it seems, will be part of Kwan's off-season homework.
"I have to do more of the math and analyze and count, instead of just letting go and doing what I please," she said. "I've got my back against the wall."
Cohen is one of the younger skaters pushing Kwan to the wall.
"I think what Sasha proved here is that she's the No. 1 American lady," said Cohen's coach, John Nicks. The remark was an unmistakable affront to Kwan, the nine-time and reigning U.S. champion.
There's another year to go before the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, and Kwan was asked if she's considering retirement. She responded with a very definite "No!"
She has become close friends with Slutskaya over the years, and they can commiserate over neither of them having won an Olympic gold medal. Turin will certainly be the last shot for both.
The defending world champion, Shizuka Arakawa of Japan, ended up ninth.
The other American in the field, Jennifer Kirk, of Hermosa Beach, Calif., finished 17th.
Staying healthy will be the biggest challenge ahead for Slutskaya, who gave special thanks to her doctor after Saturday's medal ceremonies. She suffers from vasculitis, a blood-vessel disorder that painfully swells her legs and leaves her winded and weak.
"This disease reacts to emotional changes in my mood and stress and cold weather," she said. "I'm still using special hormones and drugs, in quite big doses. Luckily my legs weren't so bad today.
"But one minute I'm crying, and five minutes later I'm laughing. It has been a very odd day for me. I've been weeping all day long."
Part of her stress is the poor health of her mother, Natalya, who is awaiting a kidney transplant. Irina passed up the 2003 World Championships to care for her mother. Then she missed virtually all of last season due to her own illness.
"Nobody else at these championships has had to come back so many times through so many hard moments as me," she said.
Saturday afternoon's finale at the famed Luzhniki arena was not close to a sellout, but the crowd was fully and loudly behind Slutskaya, who was the last to skate.
(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.
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