Kwan completed six triple jumps but almost lost her footing on a double axel, the easiest jump in her programme, and turned a planned triple salchow into a double: "I'm happy that I won but I'm still not satisfied with how I skated. I got through it but it wasn't the best performance of my life," said Kwan, who pocketed her first world gold in Edmonton in 1996.
Still, all nine judges awarded her first-place scores for her routine skated to the Lyra Angelica Concerto.
The silver and bronze medals went to the Russians Irina Slutskaya, 19, and 25-year-old Maria Butyrskaya, who leapfrogged Poland's Anna Rechnio and Laetitia Hubert of France. Slutskaya, fifth at the 1998 Olympics, landed six triples to climb to second, while Butyrskaya found herself on the world podium after two previous near misses.
The women's final concluded the 1998 World Championships, which will be remembered as much for who was not here as who was. None of the 1997 world champions defended their titles and only four of the 12 Olympic medal winners competed.
Kwan was the only non-Russian to win gold in Minneapolis. The men's world title went to Alexei Yagudin, the pairs to Elena Berzhnaya and Anton Sikharulidze, and the ice dance to Anjelika Krylova and Oleg Ovsyannikov.