They're not the highest. But Tara Lipinski's jumps, the cleanest and the surest in women's figure skating, lifted the 14-year-old into history Saturday as the youngest women's world figure skating champion ever.
In just one year, skating's jumping sensation leapt from 15th in the world to first, a feat that pushed up her Olympic dreams four years, from Salt Lake City in 2002 to Nagano, Japan, in 1998."I never expected it. Especially not this year," said Lipinski, who is one month younger than Norway's Sonja Henie was when she won the first of her 10 world titles in 1927.
"It's a big shock. But I love it."
Lipinski's perfect seven triple jumps gave youth the day, and lifted athleticism another few degrees in its ascent over artistry. But not without a fight.
The 1996 world champion, Michelle Kwan, battled back from a disappointing short program with unmatched grace and maturity.
Overnight, she had vanquished the ghosts of a missed triple lutz that dropped her to fourth in the short program, and very nearly out of medal contention, nailing the jump on her first combination. She went on to hit five other triples, backing away from only one, an intended triple lutz, near the end.
She finished first in the long program, and second overall.
France's Vanessa Gusmeroli nearly buckled after her first jump, a shaky triple flip. She recovered and skated clean for the bronze.