Sarah Hughes isn’t a willowy teenager anymore, and she laughingly acknowledges she can no longer perform those dazzling triple jumps that helped her win the gold medal in figure skating at the 2002 Salt Lake Olympics.
But that hardly means she’s not looking forward to skating again, at the site of her greatest triumph.
“We’re celebrating something that was great,” she said. “I’m not talking about me, but about the country, and for athletes. … Salt Lake City was five months after 9/11, so for the country to come together and have such a great Games I think really lifted the country’s spirits in ways people didn’t think” sports could do. “I was happy to be a part of it.”
Now a 26-year-old Yale graduate, Hughes plans to perform during the 10th anniversary celebration “A Tribute to Salt Lake 2002” ice show at EnergySolutions Arena on Saturday night, along with fellow gold medalists Jamie Sale and David Pelletier, of Canada, the pair of skaters at the center of the judging scandal in 2002.
Except for possibly one brief visit the year after her victory — she can’t quite remember — it will be Hughes’ first trip to Utah since the Olympics.
And credit her for making it happen.
Organizers originally just asked her simply to “come and wave” during the 10th anniversary events, she said. “And I thought, ‘But you’re having a show there. Wouldn’t it be better if I came and skated a number?’ They said, that would be really great, but can you? I said, I think I can pull it off.”
That meant having to focus a little harder on her skating in recent weeks, since Hughes has not skated competitively for years.
Instead, she has focused mostly on her education and a blossoming career as a writer and television broadcaster. She’s working on a book about the seven American women who have won figure skating gold medals at the Olympics, and has been active in social causes, such as promoting breast cancer prevention and encouraging children to learn to skate in conjunction with U.S. Figure Skating.
“My message is about fun,” she said. “It should always be about fun.
“I remember that I started skating because it was fun,” she added. “I practiced because I loved it. And that’s what I wanted my Olympic experience in Salt Lake to be. I just wanted to enjoy it and have a good time. I put in all the work and all the training and dealt with all these things. That’s what I wanted it to be. And I think that’s probably why I’m looking forward to going back, because the skating was fun, and the people who were there and shared my experience are who made it great. It wouldn’t have been the same if I did it somewhere else. Doing it in Salt Lake City really made a difference.”
Hughes unexpectedly won gold when veteran favorites Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskaya both stumbled in the free skate, while Hughes landed a record seven triple jumps to move up from fourth.
Her stunned reaction to learning the scores in the dressing room — mouth wide open, eyes popping out of her head as her coach tearfully hugged her — became one of the signature moments of the Olympics, though Hughes doesn’t remember that so much as the end of her riveting performance.
“I remember right after I finished and before I got off the ice, I turned around to take it all in,” she said. “We prepare our whole lives for those final four minutes, and it goes by so quickly. So before I got off the ice, I turned around — I’ll never forget, just looking at everybody on their feet and standing and that warmth in that moment. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and I knew it, and I really wanted to take it in, and I appreciated it.”
A Tribute to Salt Lake 2002
At EnergySolutions Arena
Saturday, 7 p.m.
Tickets: 801.355.SEAT or SmithTix.com
A 2002 Games celebration
P Other weekend events commemorating the 10th anniversary of the 2002 Winter Games include the following:
An ice show, parade of nations and other activities beginning Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Utah Olympic Oval, 5662 S. Cougar Lane, in Kearns.
A free “Sport Festival” featuring 2002 exhibits, pins, volunteers, interactive winter sport demonstrations and U.S. athletes on the “Road to London” runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday at The Gateway shopping center in downtown Salt Lake City.