MICHELLE KWAN saw her first competition of the season as a decidedly mitigated victory. On Sunday the five-time world champ won the U.S. Figure Skating Challenge, a made-for-TV event decided by fans instead of judges. With more than 100,000 voters weighing in by phone, on the Internet and from the stands at Boston University's Agganis Arena, Kwan beat Sasha Cohen 59% to 41%.
But while Kwan, 25, leads in the rink of public opinion, she's racing against time to be ready for the U.S. Championships in St. Louis next month, the event that will determine who goes to Turin for the Olympics. Two months ago Kwan suffered a hip injury, and she's still far from prime form. "I did what I could today," she said on Sunday. "I need to be in better shape."
Kwan is seeking her first Olympic gold medal (she won silver in 1998 and bronze in 2002), but her competition for making the U.S. team will be stiff. In addition to Cohen, who finished fourth at the '02 Games, up-and-comers Emily Hughes, Alissa Czisny and Kimmie Meissner are strong contenders for the three spots on Team USA. In Boston, Kwan cautiously toned down her routine--she shortened a double toe loop and a planned triple flip--but came away encouraged. "It feels better to skate than it does to walk," she says.