Maria Butyrskaya of Russia, thought to be too old and too skittish to be figure skating world champion, took the title from Michelle Kwan Saturday with a dynamic and solid performance that left her younger and usually steadier rival with the silver.
Butyrskaya, 26, had stumbled in previous high-pressure finals, but she clearly was in command from the opening moments of her free-skating program, leading off with a soaring triple lutz to a piano concerto by Raul di Blasio.
The serious music and pure white dress were a distinct contrast to her short program Friday, when she wore hot red and skated to a moaning blues. But the common factor in the two routines was her energy and assurance.
"I skated like a woman and showed I can control my nerves," said Butyrskaya, who became the oldest women's champion. "Age isn't very important."
Six of the nine judges gave her 5.9s for presentation; the other marks were 5.8s. She landed seven triple jumps.
Kwan, the defending champion, lacked her usual sparkle and seemed tentative technically, converting a planned double axel into a single and landing her opening triple lutz a bit awkwardly.
Underlining the contrast between the two, Butyrskaya's final jump was a clean and vigorous double axel.
The 18-year-old Kwan had caught a cold en route to Helsinki, and although she'd overcome it by the end of the week, it had undermined her earlier practices -- and her confidence.
On Saturday, "I felt OK ... but my cold probably hit me harder psychologically," she said. "I was fighting inside."
Kwan's long program, to Jules Massenet's symphonic piece Lamento d'Ariane, was distinctly stronger than Friday's short program, when she fell on a double axel.
"During the performance, i fought," Kwan said. "And that's why I'm satisfied now."
But she had ended the short program in fourth place, while Butyrskaya was in first. Under this year's new scoring system, Butyrskaya would have had to place third or lower in the free skating for Kwan to have a chance to win.
|Maria Butyrskaya gets a taste of figure skating gold. (AP)|
From the moment Butyrskaya ended her routine with a triumphant arm raise, her face working with emotion, it was clear Kwan was out of contention.
Julia Soldatova of Russia, the bronze medalist, completed a triple salchow-triple toe loop, the only skater to do that combination in the final program.
American Sarah Hughes, at 13 the championships' youngest entrant, finished seventh.
Butyrskaya's victory completed a sweep for the Russia team.
Alexei Yagudin won the men's title with a brilliant free skating display of a quad and eight triple jumps. In all, there were 14 quads done by men at the world championships, the most ever.
Yelena Berezhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze took the pairs title amid a controversy in which two judges appeared to be seen to be conversing and exchanging signals during the competition. A technically superior but less artistic Chinese pair was second.
In ice dancing, Angelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsiannikov won on a 5-4 decision over a French couple.
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