SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- Tara Lipinski grabbed the gold and turned pro. Sarah Hughes, one year older than the 1998 Olympic champion, insists she's just getting started.
The 16-year-old Hughes stunned the skating world -- and herself -- by upsetting Michelle Kwan to win the Olympic figure skating title. She has no plans to disappear now that she's reached the pinnacle of her sport.
"I started skating because I love to skate," Hughes said Friday, hours after she soared from fourth place to win the free skate and the gold medal. "And I started competing because I love to compete. I don't have any plans right now to stop.
"I think this is merely the beginning of my career, and it's something I am very proud of."
This is certainly the beginning of an entirely new segment to Hughes' career. The gold medal should be worth from $3 million to $5 million in endorsements, commercials and appearances.
"She's obviously a millionaire now a couple times over," said Kip Koslow, vice president of Steiner Sports Marketing. "It's really tough to put a gauge on her now. She has a good team around her as far as how they want to strategize. She will get a lot of offers from a lot of companies."
Hughes, who plans to compete at the world championships in Nagano, Japan, next month, doesn't have an agent. She surely will before long.
She does have some non-skating plans, though.
"My next goal," said the high school junior from Great Neck, N.Y., "is to get in the high 1500s on my SATs."
Talk about near-perfection.
Hughes, whose previous biggest victory was over Kwan and Russia's Irina Slutskaya at Skate Canada last fall, staged an almost unheard of comeback Thursday night. She did so with flair, technical proficiency and the kind of overall brilliance that sometimes not even the athlete can explain.
She nailed seven triple jumps, five in combination. Her two triple-triples were so huge that Hughes shrieked after completing them.
By the time she was done, the Salt Lake Ice Center was rocking. Dozens of wrapped flowers flew onto the ice as Hughes nearly doubled over in exhaustion and elation.
"I always go out and I'm so worried about whether I'm going to do this jump or that," she said. "Or whether I'm going to skate fast or spin well. Last night, I went out and I just skated. That was the most important thing. I didn't realize until I finished that that was just the greatest feeling ever.
"No matter what, that was my gold medal performance."
It might have been the best female routine the Olympics have seen. It had to be, as both Hughes and coach Robin Wagner knew. For Hughes to win, she had to hit all her elements and skate with abandon.
She needed fellow American teen-ager Sasha Cohen to falter, and when Cohen did, Hughes had at least a bronze.
Then Kwan had to make mistakes, and the four-time world champion did exactly that.
Still, Hughes required more. Slutskaya, the final skater, had to be good enough to finish second in the free skate. No higher, no lower.
"I thought there was no way in the world I could win," Hughes said. "Realistically, there was this little, little window of opportunity, hardly anything. So I just went out and just let it go."
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