February 13, 2006 11:00 AM

Emily Hughes, who has been tapped to replace Michelle Kwan on the women’s Olympic figure skating team in Torino, says she was so excited by the news that she had to leave the restaurant where she was having dinner.

“My dad got the call and from his expression, I could tell it was really good news,” Emily, 17, said in a conference a call to reporters. “But we were told to keep it a secret. So we tried not to jump up and down. It was really hard.”

Emily got the news Sunday from U.S. Figure Skating Association president David Raith, who made a confidential call to the cell phone of her father – attorney and former Cornell hockey player John Hughes – while their family was having dinner at a Japanese eatery near their Long Island, N.Y., home.

“We had to actually leave the restaurant because it was so exciting,” said Emily, who will replace Kwan in the competition that begins Feb. 21.

Also at that dinner table, besides her mom and dad, was Emily’s older sister Sarah, 20, who is the 2002 Olympic figure skating champion. In fact, Emily revealed, at the time she got her big news, she was biting into the restaurant’s Sarah gold roll, named after her sister.

As for the surprise, said Emily: “After nationals, I decided to focus on school more and get ready for the SATs. And now I’m going to get on a flight for Torino.”

On Monday’s Today show, Hughes said she plans to head to the Games “in the next few days,” and added that “Michelle has been very gracious to me, and I respect her on and off the ice.”

On Sunday, Kwan, the five-time figure skating world champion and nine-time U.S. title winner, withdrew from the competition, blaming a severe groin strain.

“Taking myself off the team is the most difficult decision I’ve ever had to make,” said the 25-year-old Los Angeles native, who won a silver and bronze at the last two Olympics. “But it’s the right decision.”

Fighting back tears during a press conference to announce her decision, Kwan said, “I can’t even think past right now. It’s physical pain that’s keeping me from performing and skating. But it’s also emotional pain as well.”

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