My initial point was that Kwan coped well as long as she was the front lady with Slutskaya - but that having more or different competitors around her didn't work out so well. IMO the 2002 win was totall about giving Irina her turn after all the Kwan turns, a bit of a token for lifetime achievement (not that I minded, I was a fan).
I mentionned Cohen because she did finish ahead of Kwan at worlds, and IMO she was one of many factors meaning Kwan did not skate with her usual spark and commitment - just by virtue of being there and being considered a possible gold medal prospect.
Yes, Kwan was older by that stage - but aren't Joubert, Takahashi, Verner and Kostner also well past their prime and carrying a bunch of battle wounds?
Kwan was a great competitor. Do I think it's easier to be a great competitor when you get a bunch of 5.9s and 6.0s when you skate clean? Absolutely. And I'm not saying it wasn't deserved. Her overall quality of skating meant that she knew a clean performance would be rewarded, most likely of gold. That's quite a nice incentive, compared to the mental games someone like Asada now has to contend with: will my triple axel be downgraded? Will they slash all my loop combos? And will my components be 5 points lower than Yu-Na's even if I skate great?
I also believe that naturally inconsistent skaters like Bereznaya/Sikharulizde, Savchenko/Szolkowy and Chan were helped into becoming semi consistent skaters thanks to the confidence building high marks received for messy performances early on in their careers.
And finally, I agree with Ziggy: old championships were just as "messy" as the recent ones. In the 90s, I remember getting majorly excited everytime someone landed two jumps in a row.