It actually brings up a good point. The public responded to his amazing competitive record. NBC almost refuses to allow the public to respond organically. They *must!* determine the storyline before hand. Ugh.
In 1998, the general public really embraced Tara wholeheartedly, and I think they would have forgiven the poorly handled abscence at worlds. But media folks within the skating world stuck with Michelle, Tara's people continued to make missteps, and gradually the non-skating media more or less threw up their hands and let the story die out. Even 4 years later, there was very little analysis or comparison in the media of Sarah's program to Tara's. I saw a few reporters refer to Sarah's program as "the most difficult ever," which is a very debatable assertion.