Just as men's world champion Todd Eldredge did the night before, the women's world champion, Michelle Kwan, showed Friday night that she is not counting entirely on reputation as she enters the new figure skating season.
Kwan, 16, of Torrance, might not have been quite as ready for her short program as Eldredge was for his at the first major international competition of 1996-97, Skate America, but none of the other competitors in the 12-woman field was close to approaching her class.
The nine judges, some of whom seemed blinded by the glare from the thousands of empty seats in the Springfield Civic Center, did not need the instant replay that the International Skating Union insists is coming to figure skating in the near future to see that.
On a night when no other woman received a score higher than 5.7 on a 6.0 scale, Kwan earned a 5.8 and a 5.9 for required elements and five 5.8s and three 5.9s for presentation while portraying Desdemona from "Othello."
Entering tonight's long program, when organizers promise that the attendance will be higher than the first two days' crowds of 1,571 and 1,864, the United States has a chance to place three women on the winners' stand. Tonia Kwiatkowski of Lakewood, Ohio, is second and Sydne Vogel of Colorado Springs, Colo., third.
So far, the Americans are enjoying the home-ice advantage. Entering their final programs this afternoon, Eldredge of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and the pairs team of Shelby Lyons and Brian Wells of Colorado Springs also lead their disciplines.
Frank Carroll, who coaches Kwan at Lake Arrowhead's Ice Castle International training center, was relieved when Kwan left the ice to a standing ovation.
"When you go into programs that are new, anything can happen," he said.
Anything almost did when a scoreboard error showed one of the marks for the previous skater, Russia's Maria Butyrskaya, as 0.7. After several minutes of deliberation, the score was corrected to 5.7.
Veteran that she is, Kwan said that the wait broke the tension.
"It kinda loosened things up," she said.
More skaters were in midseason form than judges. After a fine performance by Kwiatkowski, one of them gave her a 4.9 score for required elements and a 5.1 for technical merit.
"The rules have changed so much for the short program, some judges are still trying to find out what they're judging," said her choreographer, Glyn Watts.