J. Barry Mittan, the Electronic Photojournalist

Hughes Rapid Rise Rivals Lipinski's by J. Barry Mittan (1999)

Sarah Hughes had quite a year in 1999. She took the silver medal at the Junior Worlds and the Junior Grand Prix Final, finished fourth in senior ladies at the U. S. Nationals, and finished seventh at Worlds. Before 1997, Hughes was almost unknown outside of the Eastern United States, where her best finish was a 6th in novice ladies. But she had a breakthrough year in 1998 where she won the U. S. junior ladies title in her first Nationals and took two more silvers at her first two internationals, the Mexico Cup and the Hungarian Trophy.

Her Lipinski-like rise brought Hughes plenty of opportunities. In her first pro-am, she beat Katarina Witt head to head at the Hershey's Kisses Figure Skating Challenge. This season, she teamed with Evgeni Plushenko to win the Grand Slam World Super Team Challenge in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada. "It was a little strange to skate both programs the same night, but it was a lot of fun," Hughes stated. "I liked it because we won." Hughes also had the opportunity to skate at four of the shows on the Collins tour during the summer. "I liked doing the tour, but doing the whole thing must be really tiring," she said.

Sarah wasn't quite born on skates but she comes from a skating family. Her father captained the 1969-70 Cornell University hockey team. By the age of three, Sarah, the fourth of six children, had followed two hockey-playing older brothers and a figure skating sister to the rink. After a few years in which she tried ballet and gymnastics, Sarah decided to concentrate on skating. "I just liked everything about skating," she said, "especially the jumps."

Hughes has been inspired by three of the USA's greatest Olympic skaters -- Peggy Fleming, Scott Hamilton, and Kristi Yamaguchi. "Peggy is the perfect combination of athleticism and grace, something I strive for in my own skating," said Hughes. "I like Scott because he's a great entertainer who always gives 100 percent of himself and Kristi because she has maintained a high level of technical difficulty throughout her professional career."

Natalia Dubova was one of the first international coaches to notice Sarah's potential while she was skating in Lake Placid, picking Hughes at eight for a tour of France and Switzerland with skaters like Maia Usova and Alexander Zhulin. But Hughes didn't try dance or pairs. "She's very much her own person. She likes to be in total control of her skating, " said Robin Wagner, who became her head coach in January 1998. Hughes' progress has been startling. She landed her first triple salchow at 12 and had all the triples except the axel by the age of 13. Sarah named the triple loop as her favorite jump.

Wagner has choreographed Hughes' programs since 1994. For the 1999-2000 season, she is using music from a German movie, "Serenade fur Klara," for the technical and "Turandot" for the free skate. "I just stumbled on the music for the short," Wagner stated. "It has an underlying calm that is perfect for a short program. I actually picked the long program music and cut it last year," she continued, "but I decided to put it aside and wait until Sarah was a little older. When I played it at the rink this summer, she said 'I love this music'." Hughes' trip to the Vienna Cup, where she captured her first international gold medal this fall, was highlighted by a trip to see the opera "Turandot." "Sarah was so excited to see the person on stage portraying what she is skating on ice," Wagner relayed. "It really helped her to interpret and understand the music so she could play the part of the princess."

Hughes skates in a tiny vinyl miniskirt to a medley of Beatles songs, including "Yesterday" and "I Saw Her Standing There" when an artistic or interpretive program is required at events like the Keri Lotion Classic and the Grand Slam. "Sarah loves the Beatles so I went through all my old records and picked some songs she liked," Wagner noted. With her triples firmly in place, Hughes is working on more difficult combinations including a double axel - triple toe in the long and a triple lutz - double toe in the short.

Hughes trains for 2-3 hours a day after she finishes classes at Great Neck High School, where she's a freshman honor student. She takes advanced placement math and science classes after scoring 100 percent on New York's math proficiency test. "I like math the best," said Sarah. "I hope to go to college and study law or medicine. I always wanted to be a doctor and work with kids, but my dad's a lawyer and what he's doing look likes fun."

Other than skating, Sarah plays tennis, swims and rollerblades. She likes to go to movies and to go shopping. "After I finish my homework," she stressed. In addition to searching the Internet for her schoolwork, she uses her computer to chat with friends but doesn't have an official home page, although several unofficial ones have sprung up. Sarah learned to play the violin but doesn't play anymore. She listens to all kinds of music except rap and heavy metal and counts Celine Dion and Brittney Spears among her favorites, but prefers to skate to classical pieces. Sarah likes to read, especially classics, and listed "Anne of Green Gables" as a favorite as well as books on mythology. On television, her favorite program is the Today Show. She also collects Beanie babies and laments the fact that they are being discontinued. Other than the Beanie babies, she collects stuffed bears and dogs, especially Gund bears, and has several American girl dolls.

For vacation, Sarah's family used to go to Disney World but she has been so busy that she didn't even have a chance to go when she skated in Orlando in October. She's also been to Milan and Venice and would like to go to Italy again, but really wants to see London. She's excited to be skating in her first senior Grand Prix season, with competitions at Skate America and Trophee Lalique. "I don't remember too much about Paris from when I came with the tour. I'm looking forward to seeing it again."

Even after last season, Hughes isn't looking too far ahead. "My career is just starting," she said. "I want to skate my best and I hope to do better than last year. I'd like to become the best in the World, but 2002 is still a long time away." Believing that "when you work hard, you have fun," Hughes has the talent and the drive to excel.

Hughes Balances Schoolwork and Skating by J. Barry Mittan (2000)

Despite the hoopla that has surrounded her this year, teen skating sensation Sarah Hughes has kept her priorities in order - school first and then skating. Unlike many skaters who have private tutors, Hughes attends a public high school in Great Neck, New York, where she takes advanced placement classes in mathematics and science. "I like math the best," said Sarah, who had a perfect score on New York's math proficiency test. Hughes trains after school and then does her homework before taking time to relax. An avid reader, she enjoys the classics and cites "Anne of Green Gables" as a favorite. Hughes plans to study medicine or law in college.

Hughes has had a meteoric rise since she won the U. S. junior ladies crown in 1998. She finished second in her two Junior Grand Prix events as well as the Junior Grand Prix final and Junior Worlds, finished fourth in seniors at Nationals, and capped off last season by finishing 7th at the 1999 Worlds. This season, Hughes started competing at Grand Slam World Super Team Challenge in Canada. In Kitchener, Hughes had to skate two programs on the same day, a first in her career. Teamed with Russia's Evgeni Plushenko, she started the season with a win in the team event. The next week, it was off to the Keri Lotion Figure Skating Classic in Orlando, then on to the Karl Schaefer Memorial in Vienna to complete three competitions in three countries under three sets of rules in less than three weeks.

Sarah was unperturbed by the hectic schedule and won her first senior international title in Vienna in impressive fashion, winning both the short and the long. Even though it was the first time Hughes had skated the long program in competition, coach Robin Wagner noted that "Sarah made a lot of improvement in her speed and presentation over the last few weeks. She likes to have points of reference so she can gauge her progress and make improvements."

The Vienna trip was highlighted by a trip to see the opera "Turandot", from which Hughes' long program music was selected. Wagner noted that "the experience really helped Sarah interpret the music. She was able to watch the person on stage play the part of the princess that she plays on ice." Hughes is using music from the soundtrack of the German movie "Serenade fur Klara" for the short program and for exhibitions, a Beatles medley that includes "Yesterday," "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Good Night."

Hughes, who has skated since three, comes from a skating family that includes three hockey players, her father and two brothers, and another competitive figure skater, her younger sister Emily. By the age of 13, Sarah was successfully landing all the triples except the axel. Sarah's skating role models include Kristi Yamaguchi, Scott Hamilton, and Peggy Fleming. "Peggy is the perfect combination of athleticism and grace, something I strive for in my own skating," said Hughes.

Sarah is a typical teenager off ice. She swims, rollerblades, plays tennis, goes to movies, and shops. Although she listens to all kinds of music, Brittney Spears and Celine Dion are her favorite singers. She collects Beanie babies and stuffed bears and dogs. Among her favorite travel destinations were Disney World, Italy and France.

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