Sarah Hughes was hardly a stranger to the international scene when she arrived at the World Figure Skating Championships in 2001. She had a bronze medal from the Grand Prix Final and, if she was not mentioned in the same sentence with Michelle Kwan and Irina Slutskaya, she was certainly in the conversation.
By finishing third at the championships the year before the Salt Lake Games in 2002, Hughes burnished her medal-contending credibility — with the judges, other skaters and the public.
A year later, she was an Olympic champion.
“Getting the third place was really a breakthrough for me there,” Hughes said. “It was so hard and so difficult for me to get that third place. I was just fighting and fighting and fighting to try and get that recognition.”
She added: “It gave me a lot of confidence going into the summer because the summer before the Olympics is really, really important. It seems like you have a lot of time before the Games, but you blink your eyes, and it’s here.”