Glad to be the `other' Hughes

Late-arriving Emily embraces comparisons to gold-medalist sister

Women's Figure Skating

February 18, 2006|By RICK MAESE | RICK MAESE,SUN REPORTER

TURIN, Italy -- The mistake happened just once, but that's all it really took to remember just who is casting that large shadow.

At a news conference yesterday, a radio reporter took the microphone and started to pose his question. "Sarah ... " he began.

Up on the dais, he was quickly corrected. "I'm Emily," the small girl with the big smile politely said.

Emily Hughes is alternately known as Sarah's Sister and more recently, Michelle's Replacement. She met with the media yesterday for the first time since arriving in Italy the day before.

"Just making it here is such an accomplishment for me," said the 17-year-old figure skater. "I don't have expectations. I'll just go out and attack everything and skate my best."

Hughes was named to the team earlier in the week when nine-time U.S. champion Michelle Kwan withdrew from the Games, citing an injury she suffered in her first Turin practice session.

Hughes, the third-place finisher at the U.S. Championships last month, was the American alternate and was summoned to Italy earlier over the weekend. Not surprisingly, many of the questions she answered in her first meeting with the media were focused on her older sister. Four years ago, Sarah Hughes also finished third in the nationals and went on to win an Olympic gold in Salt Lake City. Similar to her older sister, Emily Hughes turned 17 just a few weeks before the Winter Games began.

"She's my sister, and everyone is going to compare us sooner or later," said the younger Hughes. "And you know what? I don't think it's too bad being compared to an Olympic gold medalist."

Kwan was initially granted a spot on the Olympic team even though she missed the U.S. Championships due to injury. She petitioned her way to the third and final American opening, which appeared to leave Hughes at home in Great Neck, N.Y., watching the Winter Games on television.

Still, Hughes says she understood the process and harbors no bad feelings.

"I think it was great that Michelle had every opportunity to be on this team," Hughes said. "I mean, with her record, she would be the most qualified to petition to be on this team, and I just think it's unfortunate she was injured and unable to compete."

Hughes answered each question with a smile, seeming happy and grateful just to be here. Even though she didn't expect the Turin ticket, she never stopped practicing. Hughes had been working on her routine for the world championships next month.

Hughes said she has been working on amping up her spins and jumps to increase their point value. She also hinted that she might throw in a triple-triple during next week's competition.

At the U.S. Championships in St. Louis, Hughes was in good position to win the Americans' second Olympic spot. She trailed only Sasha Cohen after the short program. But during the free skate, she fell on a triple loop and doubled a triple salchow. Hughes fell to third place, more than five points behind second-place finisher Kimmie Meissner, the 16-year-old skater from Bel Air.

When Sarah Hughes placed third at the nationals four years ago, she was still considered a medal threat at the Salt Lake City Games. This time around, though, the younger Hughes sister is not a favorite to finish in the top three. She has limited international experience and her top finish is still a bronze at the junior world championships. She topped Meissner there but finished behind the Maryland skater two months earlier at the 2005 U.S. Nationals.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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