Maybe someone at the Salt Lake Ice Center had a cruel sense of humor. Or just wasn't a Michelle Kwan fan.

Whatever the reason, as the crowd filed out after Sarah Hughes stunned Kwan to win the Olympic figure skating gold medal Thursday night, the P.A. system played U2's "Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For."

Kwan might never find that elusive gold. She has done everything else in the sport, including winning six U.S. titles and four world championships. She's been at the top since 1996.

But her Olympic medals collection consists of a silver behind Tara Lipinski in 1998, and now a bronze behind Hughes and Kwan's Russian rival and friend, Irina Slutskaya.

"I think I was a little more disappointed in Nagano, just because I skated much better," Kwan said. "Tonight it was one of those things. I don't know what didn't go my way.

"I guess it's different. But both ended up crying."

Kwan won the short program, worth one-third of the total score. She still was in first place after her mediocre free skate, but knew if Slutskaya, the final skater, beat her scores, she would drop to third.

That's why there was no expression in her face as she sat holding her father Danny's hand before Slutskaya skated. And that's why her eyes were red and puffy after Slutskaya finished second in Thursday night's portion, lifting Hughes to the title — and tearing that golden disc from Kwan's grasp.

"It's a bummer, but it is competition," Kwan said. "I can keep my head high and I guess the color medal doesn't matter to me.

"I just had to remind myself, it's OK, it's OK."

But it was not supposed to end this way — again.

Unlike in 1998, the 21-year-old Kwan took in the whole Olympic experience and it seemed to settle her. She had great practices, and looked looser before she skated than she has in years. She even waved into a television camera before warming up Thursday night.

Then she never really got started in her long program.

Kwan two-footed her triple toe loop jump, the opener of a combination, and crashed to the ice on her triple flip.

Her tricks weren't as tough as Hughes' jumps, and she didn't have the 16-year-old's energy, either.

"I made an early mistake, on the triple toe, and it kind of shook me up a little bit," she said. "I think I rushed a little bit into the triple flip and triple toe.

"It is so hard to analyze each performance. I have done my long program so many times and I treated it like practice."

Kwan doesn't want to make a practice of Olympic underachievement, but she'll need to stick around four more years for another shot at the gold. While she has hinted she intends to be in Turin, Italy, in 2006, those plans quickly could change.

After all, Kwan already has been in the sport's glaring spotlight since 1994.

"I haven't decided yet, a lot of people asked me what my decision was," she said. "I enjoy competing, I do love the sport a lot and it gives me a lot of pleasure, a lot of joy."

And some heartbreak — particularly at the Olympics.

Still, Kwan was wearing a gift of gold following the event. Dorothy Hamill, the 1976 Olympic champion, gave her a dimestore plastic gold medal. She was wearing it along with the real bronze medal.

"It's not as heavy as this (bronze) one," she said, holding up the toy gold. "But it's just as nice. This is the color medal I would have liked."