WASHINGTON -- Michelle Kwan became the third American to win five World Figure Skating Championships Saturday night, and she did it with the kind of artistry that would match anyone who has ever laced skates.
And for those who criticize her for not trying the most difficult jumps, she answered with a technical masterpiece of spins, spirals and footwork that thrilled the crowd.
She appeared just as ecstatic, especially toward the end of the free skate. With more than a minute left in the program, she was smiling widely.
"I never felt such energy from myself and felt so calm," she said. "It seemed like I walked through everything."
Kwan, a seven-time U.S. champion, is tied with Dick Button and Carol Heiss most world crowns by an American. She has more world medals than any American with eight. She has been first or second at every world championship since 1996, also winning in '96, '98, 2000 and '01.
Russia's Elena Sokolova capped her breakthrough season with silver, and Japan's Fumie Suguri won bronze.
"Last season, I was not even in the top three in Russia," Sokolova said. "Now, I will be second in the world."
American Sasha Cohen barely was edged by Suguri for third -- the difference being Suguri had an easier qualifying group than Cohen and won it. Cohen was third behind Kwan and Sokolova in qualifying, fifth in the short program and third Saturday night.
Kwan, the first woman to reclaim the world crown three times, did six triples -- two in combination. While she didn't attempt a triple-triple combination -- Sokolova and several others did them -- it hardly mattered when everything else was of high quality.
"Tonight, this week, it's been ... I still don't believe it," said Kwan, who sobbed on the victory stand, then carried an American flag around the ice on a victory lap. "It's like, 'Wow.' I have no words."
As the 22-year-old Kwan continues to collect titles, it seems more certain she will be around for the 2006 Olympics. The one gold missing is in sports' biggest arena, though she has Olympic silver and bronze.
"When I look back at 10 years at worlds, it seems like it didn't happen," Kwan said. "Tonight, I got to enjoy the program."
Olympic champion Sarah Hughes, skating in the next-to-last group, had a better performance than in qualifying. She fell once on a triple flip, but hit five triples. Her spins were precise, and she left the ice feeling a lot better than a few days ago.
She was rewarded for her presentation, finishing sixth.
"I definitely did a lot more than I thought was possible and I survived," Hughes said. "It was an incredible week in my life. I'm definitely glad the year is over."
Cohen had another difficult free skate. Though she was the most successful skater on the Grand Prix series this season, she tends to flop when the national title or a medal at worlds is on the line.
Cohen fell during a flying camel spin and crashed on a triple toe loop, her easiest triple jump. Her presentation marks lifted her close to Suguri overall, but were not enough to give her third.