An overnight success who won Olympic gold, Sarah Hughes sparkled at the perfect moment to achieve figure skating immortality. Born May 2, 1985 in Great Neck, NY, Sarah Elizabeth Hughes followed in her older siblings' footsteps when she began figure skating at the age of three, demonstrating a talent far beyond her years. After winning the junior title at the 1998 U.S. Championships, she placed second at the 1999 World Junior Championships and took fourth in her senior debut at the 1999 U.S. Championships. With an impressive jumping ability showcased in her jaw-dropping ability to include a triple salchow/triple loop combination in programs already larded with triples, Hughes steadily rose in the rankings, earning second place at the 2001 U.S. Championships and third place at the 2001 Worlds and 2002 U.S. Championships. Going into the 2002 Olympics, the 17-year-old Hughes was not considered a favorite, with many expecting longtime competitor Michelle Kwan to at last take home the gold. In an inspiring, stand-up-and-cheer performance remarkable for both its athleticism and artistry, Hughes won the long program and the gold medal, becoming the ultimate Cinderella story of that Olympics cycle. Despite being showered with honors for her accomplishments, including the James E. Sullivan Award, Hughes was unable to maintain her dominance, coming in second at the 2003 U.S. Championships and sixth at the 2003 World Championships before retiring from competition. Devoting herself to philanthropic causes, skating exhibitions and her own education, Hughes went on to graduate from Yale in 2009.
By Jonathan Riggs