The Gold Standard

March 04, 2002

Sarah Hughes's Olympic gold medal in figure skating is the
sweetest story in sports this century, and here's why.

One, it proves parents don't have to ship their eight-year-olds
to some coaching guru a thousand miles away. Tara Lipinski's dad
didn't live with his daughter after she was 10. Tim Goebel's dad
didn't after his son was 11. But Sarah's father, John, wasn't
just a check-sending service. He got to see his little girl grow
right there in the family's ranch house in Kings Point, N.Y. "I
don't see how this moment could be as joyous if I hadn't been
with her the whole time," he says.

Two, it saved the Salt Lake City Olympics, which were so full of
bribery, cheating and protests you could've sworn you were at
the Little League World Series. Then here comes a straight-A
student snatching the gold from fourth place when the only thing
she really wanted to accomplish was "eating lunch in the
[athletes' village] cafeteria." Delicious.

Three, it saved figure skating. Until Hughes, this was a sport
in which anything couldn't happen. Hughes had been outskating
diva Michelle Kwan for two years. In speed, and in height and
difficulty of jumps, Hughes had blown by Kwan as if she were a
1975 Plymouth Duster. In Salt Lake City the judges finally
caught up. That's the lovely irony of this story. Without the
stench of Skategate, judges wouldn't have been free to do the
right thing. Thank you, Marie-Reine Le Gougne.

Four, it's sweet for Sarah's spunky mom, Amy, who a few years
ago spent more than three months in the hospital beating breast
cancer, chemo, radiation, stem-cell transplants, nausea and
pain. Her family pulled her through it. Oldest daughter Rebecca
would fly in from Harvard on weekends to help take care of the
younger girls. Oldest son Dave gave blood platelets. John went
to skating competitions and held up his cell phone so Amy could
listen to Sarah's music and hear the applause. Seems as if every
time he did that, Amy could take more platelets than usual.
"She's my Dr. Sarah," Amy says.

Five, it's going to unnerve Sarah's hilarious 18-year-old
brother, Matt. When he's home from college, he is not allowed to
enter her room, not allowed to eat all her home-baked
chocolate-chip cookies and has to share a bathroom with the
little brat. "Dang," Matt says, "now that she's Olympic
champion, do I have to leave the toilet seat down?"

Six, it provides hope to every young female figure skater who's
more of a checking forward than a sequined ice queen. Hughes is
a pure jock who never went to Frozen Smile and Fake Wave School.
Her smile is huge and real and looks great under that Brett Hull
nose, doesn't it?

Seven, it's proof that grounded kids soar the highest. Sarah, a
junior at Great Neck North High, used to play violin in the
school orchestra, does her own laundry and has to get her
homework done. She even wrote two articles for the school paper
after she left for Salt Lake City. This kid never believed her
worth was tied to her latest score. So while Kwan and Irina
Slutskaya bonked under finals pressure, Hughes looked like a kid
running in a meadow.

Eight, it may not even be the coolest thing this girl ever does.
She's as unbeatable as a photo speeding ticket. At five, her
goal was to win an Olympic gold medal. At 16, her goal is to
score "in the high 1,500s" on her SATs. (She brings her study
guide to practice.) She hopes to become a doctor. If she ends up
as Belle in Disney's Beauty and the Beast ice show, I'll eat my
laptop.

Nine, have I mentioned it's about family? Two hours before she
was to skate, Hughes started getting butterflies the size of
Cessnas. She called Matt on his cell phone. "Matty, tell me a
joke," she said. So Matt says, "Grasshopper walks into a bar.
Bartender says, 'Hey, we got a drink named after you.' And the
grasshopper goes, 'You got a drink named Irving?'" Sarah
laughed. Hey, your family pulls you through.

Ten, it's not about money. After Hughes shocked the world, some
guy in the upper deck at the Salt Lake City Ice Center said,
"Wow, she's gonna be rich."

Gonna be? She already is.

COLOR PHOTO: DANA FINEMAN/SYGMA

Sarah Hughes is a pure jock who never went to Frozen Smile and
Fake Wave School.

HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
OUT
HOLE YARDS PAR R1 R2 R3 R4
IN
Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)