Salt Lake City It doesn't matter now that Michelle Kwan doesn't have a coach to sit beside her in the kiss-and-cry area.
Or that Russians Maria Butyrskaya and Irina Slutskaya endured inconsistent seasons. Forget, too, Sarah Hughes' flutzes and Sasha Cohen's unsuccessful attempts to land a quadruple jump.
What matters is the way these women perform during the most pressure-packed 61Â¼2 minutes of their lives: the 21Â¼2 minutes of their short programs today at the Salt Lake Ice Center, and the 4-plus minutes of their long programs on Thursday, which will determine the women's Olympic figure skating champion.
Kwan, the four-time world champion and six-time U.S. champion, has history on her side as she pursues the gold medal she was favored to win four years ago at Nagano but narrowly lost to compatriot Tara Lipinski at Nagano.
For starters, the 21-year-old Torrance, Calif., native is the reigning women's world champion, and each of the last four women's gold medalists had won the world title the year before her Olympic triumph. Katarina Witt of East Germany began the streak by winning the 1987 world championship and the 1988 gold medal at Calgary. Next was Kristi Yamaguchi of the U.S., the 1991 world champion and 1992 Olympic gold medalist at Albertville.
Oksana Baiul of Ukraine won her only world title in 1993 and won gold at the 1994 Lillehammer Games, and Lipinski won her lone world championship in 1997 and followed by upsetting Kwan with an exuberant and technically demanding long program at the Nagano Games.
Also, at least one U.S. woman has won a medal at the last nine Olympics, since Peggy Fleming triumphed at Grenoble in 1968.