A perfect night for
sweet, smart Sarah
Skating is a team
for the Hughes family
mix in practice sessions includes Celine Dion, "The Space
Between," by the Dave Matthews Band and Britney Spears…An honors
student, her interests include reading mysteries, rollerblading and
playing tennis. She plays the violin, and hopes to study medicine….Among
her favorite quotes are: "When you work hard, you have fun," and
"It’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be
Express Staff Writer
How do you
solve a problem like perfection?
Hughes, a perfect blend of ebullient youth and poise, turned in an
unforgettable four minutes of Ravel and triple jumps Thursday and did what
all teenagers seem to do.
sticks and gloves—they’ve always been around. And the backyard
skating rink has always been a Hughes family tradition. This Christmas
card photo was snapped in Dec. 1990, when Sarah was five—a year before
she skated in exhibitions with her idol, 1968 gold medalist Peggy Fleming.
From left, Matthew, then 7; Sarah, 5; Emily, 22 months; Rebecca, 13; and
David, 9. Parents John and Amy Hughes completed their hockey team a year
later when Taylor was born. Courtesy photo
sellout crowd of 16,000 sudden Sarah converts and 43 million on the tube,
she put her parents in a quandry.
Canadian-born John Hughes, Sarah’s hockey-playing dad, you attack
perfection with a relentless forecheck. You rely on your teammates, keep a
smile on your face and an upbeat attitude in your head, chase the puck and
trust hard work.
after the biggest performance of Sarah’s life, you approve her first big
endorsement, Wheaties, the Breakfast of Champions, since Sarah collects
special editions of the cereal boxes anyway and it’s totally wholesome.
plenty about perfection. So does 16-year-old Sarah, who inherited her
father’s competitive streak and is motivated by perfection.
Now if you’re
John’s wife Amy Hughes, you keep things as normal as possible around
your little Kings Point (L.I.) hockey team of six kids.
Amy has a huge shortcoming—she can’t bear to watch Sarah skate. It’s
else loves it.
everybody in the Delta Center Thursday, on a simply perfect night when
Sarah brought down the house and won the 2002 Olympic gold medal—the
first American skater to win the gold before claiming a U.S. championship.
in her seat next to John in the Delta Center when Sarah completed her
ethereal yet difficult program featuring seven triple jumps with two
triple-triple combinations. She became the first female to land two
triple-triple Olympic combinations.
roaming the hallways, fretting at ground level while Sarah was out there,
reaching for the stars.
quickly called Amy on his cell and went to collect his happy wife. Maybe
the bronze medal, they figured, with the top three yet to skate. Really
unbelievable she skated so well. What a great time to do it!
never skated that well in my life!" said Sarah, truly amazed, the
moment she came off the ice.
The rest is
history. With her two brothers and three sisters watching in the arena,
Sarah and coach Robin Wagner sank to their knees in astonishment when the
other contenders stumbled and they realized the gold medal was theirs.
Hughes, the product of a big family, thus became the seventh sister—joining
an exclusive golden club featuring Tenley Albright, Carol Heiss, Peggy
Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Kristi Yamaguchi and Tara Lipinski.
with the possibility Sarah’s gold medal could be worth up to $10 million
in endorsements is the newest Hughes challenge. That’s high altitude for
a high school junior who is worried about scores other than 5.8s.
about her immediate goals after the Olympics, Sarah answered, perfectly
poised, "Getting in the high 1500s on my SATs."
heard I scored over a thousand prom dates on Long Island," she
laughed. Nassau County declared Sunday as "Sarah Hughes Day," in
Great Neck. She may appear on "Saturday Night Live" this week.
The beat goes on.
is Sarah’s agent, for the time being. The tight-knit family can’t bear
to have anyone else handling their child. After all, she’s 16.
"Sarah has a huge responsibility now as gold medalist. Huge. But I
think she’s ready. There are terrific opportunities for Sarah."
meeting ‘N Sync.
have provided consistent messages all along. They’ve been dedicated to
staying with her, wherever she has traveled. She has always lived at home.
Always. She does chores, like everyone else.
ago, after 13-year-old Sarah won the silver medal at the World Junior
Championships in Croatia, John explained what the requirement of normalcy
means within the Hughes clan.
home, Sarah is just one of six. She has to fight with everybody else for
her TV shows," he said. "I wouldn’t want her going away and
just hanging around a rink when she wasn’t skating.
do fine with her skating. It’s after her skating that I’m thinking
A perfect season at
assured John Hughes watched the gold medal hockey game between Canada and
the U.S. on Sunday and rooted for Wayne Gretzky’s club.
proud Canadian and an adopted American, was the captain of the Cornell
University hockey team that was called by its coach, Ned Harkness,
"the greatest college hockey team ever."
entirely of skaters from southern Ontario, the 1969-70 Cornell hockey team
was simply perfect, at 29-0 the only undefeated college hockey team in
Division 1 history.
It was the
golden era of Eastern College Athletic Conference hockey, when Canadian
imports formed the foundation of many college teams and American hockey
was still in its formative stage.
originally from Ottawa, recruited Hughes out of Scarborough, Ontario, near
Toronto. Although he became one of American hockey’s founding fathers,
Harkness never abandoned his loyalties.
did he found the hockey program at New York’s Rensselaer Polytechnic
Institute near Albany in 1950, a year after becoming a naturalized
American citizen, Harkness guided RPI to a national title in 1954 and a
180-90-7 mark from 1950-62.
when asked why he moved west to Ithaca on Cayuga Lake and took over the
coaching job at Cornell in 1963, Harkness barked, "Because it’s 130
miles closer to Canada."
6-2 Ken Dryden out of Ontario, and the goalie known as the "Big
Kid" won Harkness’ first national title for the Big Red in 1967.
The next year Cornell was third at Duluth, and in 1969 second to Denver at
All-American Dryden then graduated, off to greatness for Montreal in the
National Hockey League. Succeeding him was a compact, 5-6, 132-pound
goalie named Brian Cropper, a junior Harkness got from Toronto.
Cornell regroup? Indeed, they did. They overcompensated on defense.
Dryden, Cornell won every game, outscoring opponents 179-55. Cropper was
unbeatable. He surrendered just 53 goals. The Big Red won one-goal games
over Harvard, Clarkson and Wisconsin, then beat Clarkson 6-4 in the
the first-line center, an unselfish, overachieving senior who finished
with 68 goals and 83 assists in just 78 Cornell hockey games and
exemplified the team’s role-playing spirit.
It was a
squad without stars, a team with only one All-American, defenseman Dan
Lodboa, who broke a 3-3 tie with Clarkson in the 1970 NCAA championship
game at Lake Placid by scoring three goals in the third period.
years from 1967-70, Cornell went 110-5-1 on the sheet and won two NCAA
Pasternack was a Cornell junior from Long Island when her future husband
was skating for the Big Red and working his miracles in Lynah Rink.
campuses from 1967-70 were overcome with the roar of revolution, and
Cornell was on the front lines. But Amy got into a crowd that lived and
died with Cornell hockey and likened Dryden to royalty. Hockey provided a
respite from the turmoil, on campus and off.
sandy-haired, boyish hockey player from Canada and the effervescent coed
with the New York accent from Long Island. And they married, blending
Canada and America into a partnership.
graduates, smart and talented, respectful of the value of education, blue
chip all the way, they started their own little hockey team.
a prominent tax and real estate attorney in New York. Amy was a certified
public accountant. Their first child, Rebecca, was born in 1977 and went
on to study at Harvard and become editor of the weekly Independent. Sarah
was born in 1985.
skating at three because her sister and two older brothers, David and
Matthew, all skated. She first took group classes when she was the
youngest in a class of four- and five-year-olds.
tape, at age five, she declared her desire to win the Olympic gold medal.
At nine, she skated alone on the ice between periods of New York Rangers
games at Madison Square Garden.
of the event, she was always competitive, Sarah said in an interview last
year. In her family she was the earliest to walk, run and tie her skates.
She knew exactly how to tie her skates and do it right. She always wanted
to be first.
of perfectionism extended to just about everything in Sarah’s life. She
gave her older brothers the devil when they entered her room and messed it
progressed rapidly through regionals and sectionals and won the U.S.
junior championships at Philadelphia in Jan. 1998—while her mother Amy
was undergoing successful treatment for breast cancer.
1998 she and her family traveled to Zagreb where Sarah won the silver
medal in world juniors.
enabled Sarah to become the youngest competitor in the 1999, 2000 and 2001
world championships. She started a pleasing pattern of progressing
technically and artistically at each event.
fifth at worlds in 2000 and third in 2001.
Canada victory over Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskaya in November was
Sarah’s first major title. At nationals, she placed third in 2000 and
second in 2001 but dropped behind a spectacular Sasha Cohen into third
place at the 2002 U.S. Nationals.
It had been
very difficult just making the skilled U.S. Olympic team. Now the 2002
Winter Olympics loomed.
completely in character, wasn’t satisfied with placing behind Cohen at
nationals. She challenged herself by adding the tricky triple toe, triple
loop combo to her long program.
participating in the Olympic opening ceremony with her U.S. figure skating
teammates, Hughes and coach Wagner slipped away to the World Arena in
Colorado Springs where Sarah diligently worked on fine tuning.
of attack tinkered with all aspects of the routine.
the soundtrack for Sarah’s long program, staying with Ravel’s
"Daphnis and Chloe" for the entire four-minute routine and
picking up the speed at the end, in a crescendo of cymbal crashes.
brought Sarah to a celebrity hairdresser in New York City. He shortened
her hair. The costumes had to fit her personality and project
sophistication—and be perfect.
fourth-place result in the short program Feb. 19 may have given her a
psychological boost and allowed the 5-5 skater to let it loose, throw
caution to the wind and go for the gold.
In her long
program, she skated with pure joy—casting aside control and trusting her
pure skating talent. Sarah’s face lit up as she completed each triple
and she wowed the crowd with sheer mastery of a very difficult routine.
perhaps convinced by the recent Olympic judging scandal to go with merit
instead of voting on reputation, gave Sarah seven of a possible nine 5.8s
for technical merit and six 5.8s for presentation.
Sarah Hughes said with a sunny outlook, "I think this is really just
the beginning of my career."
the Olympic champion forever. Maybe now, the summit of perfection reached
once again within the Hughes family, her mother can peek through her
fingers and watch Sarah do her thing.