PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The verdict was in: Sarah Hughes needed a study break from final exams.
Her recess wasn't the typical stop at a coffee house or even a drink at the bar; Hughes instead slipped into a fringed BCBG pastel dress for a night out at a USOC event in a fashion style that reminded her of the days she was the darling of Olympic figure skating.
"I'm kind of glad I did well in the Olympics because this is now a fun night out from law school and studying," she said, smiling.
Hughes has put her skates on ice for now and is pursuing a degree at the University of Pennsylvania Law School.
Hughes, who started figure skating at 3 and won a gold medal the Olympics at 16, said she was always wanted to attend law school and fell in love with Penn during a visit.
While winter weather usually means outdoor skating, Hughes has been holed up in the library studying for exams. Hughes wants to ace her finals, of course, and not just skate by, so she brought a backpack stuffed with law books so she could make a quick escape for the library when the show ended.
"I have to make sure nothing happens to this," she said after handing the bag off to a USOC official. "It has my notes."
More interested now in torts than toe jumps, she was top of the class at the 2002 Olympics. Hughes won the free skate portion of the figure skating competition at the Salt Lake City Games, vaulting from fourth to first place to take gold. She stunned the world with an almost unheard of comeback to upset Michelle Kwan and become an international sensation.
Almost 14 years later, Hughes was able to roam the Ivy League campus in anonymity.
"Nobody knew anything, really, except a few people from New York," she said. "After a while, word started getting around, but it wasn't a big deal because it was a small class and we all knew each other. I wanted to make friends with people first."
Her friends all wanted to tag along with her at the Team USA Awards show last week, which included a wide range of stars such as former Philadelphia Eagles running back Brian Westbrook, Olympic wrestling gold medalist Jordan Burroughs and Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Samantha Hoopes.
Hughes presented the female Olympic athlete of the year award to gymnast Simone Biles. The ceremony was hosted by NBC's "Today" show co-host Natalie Morales and airs Dec. 27 on the NBC Sports Network (NBCSN).
"How do you like going to school here?" Morales asked, gushing after they bumped into each other on the red carpet.
Hughes beamed as she told the host how much she loved Philadelphia. She just hasn't yet hit all the landmarks like a true native, though she attended a Taylor Swift concert at the stadium that's home to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Hughes hasn't laced up skates since she moved to Philadelphia, though she hoped to hit the ice in New York over the break.
The 30-year-old Hughes, certainly older than the average law student, eschewed the dorms she lived in at Yale for an off-campus apartment in Philadelphia. U.S. News ranked Penn Law No. 7 in the country. Yale, where Hughes graduated with a bachelor's degree in American studies in 2009, was top ranked.
"I actually didn't get to choose any of my classes first semester," said Hughes, who was interested in studying contracts. "You just do what they say. That's kind of what law school is so far."
Hughes is still a known commodity outside of class. She posed for a picture with Martha Stewart in a recent Instagram post, and is one of two figure skating representatives for the USOC. She attended a USOC summit in August in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
Hughes hopes she can thrive in the courtroom the way she dominated the ice.
"I left one crazy field for another," she said, laughing.