|Four times a bridesmaid at the U.S. Figure Skating championships, Sasha Cohen is finally headed to the Olympics as a national champion and in this case, she may represent the Americans' best chance to win three straight golds for the first time in the event's history.|
American men won four consecutive gold medals from 1948-60, but recently it's been the charge of the young women who have gained the spotlight for the U.S. In 1998 it was Tara Lipinski and four years ago Sarah Hughes rallied from a fourth-place showing in the short program to win the gold medal, edging Russian Irina Slutskaya in a controversial finish.
Cohen, who was just 17 at the time, came in fourth place, behind American Michelle Kwan. Despite winning the 2006 U.S. Figure Skating championships on January 14, Cohen continues to perform in the shadow of Kwan, a five-time world and nine-time national champion, who never skated at nationals this year because of a groin injury. Despite this, Kwan petitioned U.S. Figure Skating for a spot on the Olympic squad and was granted approval on certain conditions.
"I've always emulated her work ethic because she was one of the few skaters that didn't lose her temper, that would have a bad day, but have a great attitude, come back and try again. That was a huge lesson for me to learn," Cohen said of Kwan.
However, Cohen also recently said she was frustrated by some of the amateur skaters not retiring "when they're supposed to," although she never named Kwan directly.
"For whatever reason, the pro world has kind of died out, and the skaters are staying in, staying competitive, putting in the effort, the training to stay at the top of their game. It's difficult," Cohen said.
A four-time silver medalist and one-time bronze medalist at nationals, Cohen is one of only a handful of Jewish-American athletes at the Winter Games. Her roots in skating started at the age of seven after learning gymnastics. By the age of 10, she was skating full-time and started perfecting her jumps, double salchow and double toeloops.
Cohen missed most of the 2004 international season with a back strain, and a bout with the flu nearly cost her participation at this year's nationals.
Physical setbacks weren't the only problem for Cohen. She's had three different coaches since 2002, but has come full circle in that time. Cohen was coached by John Nicks following the 2002 Games, but then she relocated to Simsbury, Connecticut to train with Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova. In January 2004, Cohen turned to Robin Wagner, Hughes' Olympic coach. However, 11 months later, Cohen came back to California, and again is working with Nicks.
If anything, it may be that Cohen turned to Nicks, a member of the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame who has been coaching skating for almost 45 years, for his expert advice and to make light of the new scoring system that will be used for the 2006 Olympics.
The skating controversy from four years ago forced the International Skating Union to adopt the new system, which is based on cumulative points rather than the 6.0 standard of marks and placement. Under the new system, points are awarded for a technical score combined with points awarded for five additional components - skating skills, transitions, performance/execution, choreography/composition and interpretation.
"You just have to stay on top of the ball, and keep calling people and asking people, and not get one opinion, but 20," Cohen said how to interpret the new scoring system. "It always changes. It's very important to be involved as a skater because ultimately no one cares more about how you do than yourself."
However, Cohen said she's in favor of the new system because the focus is now on the skaters and not the judges.
"I want to know I have the responsibility and that weight on my shoulders that I'm going to do everything possible to make this happen," Cohen said. "I'm not going to let something, that I didn't pay attention to one rule on one spin, to let there be a reason why I missed a point.
"I like the fact they give weight to spins, spirals, footwork, transitions," Cohen said of the new scoring system. "Something that was merely checked off before and jumping was given all the weight. For me, I'm very appreciative of the new system.
Cohen has been criticized in the past for not being able to land two near- perfect events back-to-back in the short program and free skate, but judging from her recent performances she just may be on her way to becoming the new media darling in Italy.
- Eric Gold, Olympic Staff Writer