SALT LAKE CITY -- At the risk of being drowned out by 15,600 cheers, pelted by dozens of floral arrangements, suffocated with a flag and knocked cold by a teddy bear, I offer these two thoughts.
Michelle Kwan doesn't deserve to be in first place today.
If her approach doesn't change, she might not deserve the Olympic gold medal on Thursday.
She could get punked by Sasha Cohen, just as she was punked four years ago by Tara Lipinski in Nagano.
She could get flattened by Irina Slutskaya, who has covered her in ice chips three times in three big events this season.
Or, she could be trampled by history, remembered as one of those skaters who wins an Olympic gold medal only because it is her turn.
Kwan may have been judged the best Tuesday in the Olympic women's figure skating short program, leading by a close margin over Russia's Slutskaya and Laguna Niguel's Cohen.
But her performance was pure Oscar De La Hoya
In the final rounds against Felix Trinidad.
Kwan was the great fighter who has won the crowd and seemingly won the belt, then decides to play it safe.
Her skating was smooth and proper and beautiful. But it lacked a flair, a glare and a finishing punch.
All of which were evident in her two top competitors.
Slutskaya, who finished second, soared over the rink one moment, danced across it on one foot the next moment, then said what everyone has been afraid to say.
"You feel here a war on ice."
There is a reason that four of the nine judges rated her performance as the best.
Cohen, meanwhile, spun and twisted for two minutes, then admitted what 5-foot-1 teen-age girls rarely admit.
"I went out there to attack."
There is a reason that five of the nine judges rated her technical program equal to Kwan's.
As for the four-time world champion who has won everything but an Olympic gold, it wasn't about attacking, but being adored.
When Kwan took the ice after all of the other top skaters had competed -- luck of the draw -- it didn't feel like a short program, it felt like a coronation.
The standing ovation at the Salt Lake Ice Arena lasted several long seconds. And that was before she even started tried her first triple lutz.
"I looked up in the stands and it was like, 'I haven't even started skating yet!' " she said.
You wanna bet Slutskaya was thinking the same thing?
"I think Americans, they like me," she said. "Of course, I'm not the favorite like American girls."
It was so loud, Kwan later said, "I feel America behind me."
That doesn't say much for Americans Cohen and Sarah Hughes (fourth), but who could blame Kwan?
Although her technical marks were not the best, each of her artistic marks was a 5.9, as if the judges were applauding her just for being her.
And maybe this feeling will continue in Thursday's long program.
Maybe, even though Kwan skates fifth in the final set while Slutskaya will be the last one to leave the ice by skating sixth, none of that matters.
Maybe if Kwan just stays on her feet, she gets a gold-filled lifetime achievement award.
But does she want to take that chance?
Once the cheers stopped and Kwan started skating Tuesday -- her father Danny standing by the boards in place of previously fired coach Frank Carroll -- a couple of things became obvious even to the average skating fan.
She didn't jump the way Slutskaya jumped. She didn't dazzle the way Cohen dazzled.
She didn't fall, either, of course, and remember what they say -- you can't win a medal with a short program, you can only lose one.
But it just seemed that, on this night, Slutskaya and Cohen were more intent on winning.
Said Slutskaya: "I really love the competition."
Said Cohen: "I thought to myself, 'You have one chance, I don't want any regrets.' "
Kwan, on the other hand, sounded more like somebody who was already taking a victory lap.
"I was like, 'I'm Michelle Kwan. What I've done I have no regrets. Come here and enjoy yourself,' " she said. "I've done this a million times. It was just like another practice."
Then she won't blame those who thought that, at times, it sort of looked like it.
Certainly, she poured out her amazing trademark spirals and spins. And, yeah, after completing her triple flip, she was so excited, she opened her mouth as if to scream.
But all of them scream. All of them flip. All of them sparkle.
The point of this entire event is, none of them are Michelle Kwan.
None of them have earned an Olympic moment like this, endorsed by America, gift-wrapped by the judges, just sitting there waiting to be grabbed and embraced and waved high for history.
The Torrance, Calif., kid should know, it's time.
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