Cohen stretches her limits, shows secret talent

Olympic silver medalist turned contortionist will show off her flexibility and compete for votes

Will she or won't she return for the Vancouver Olympics? Sasha Cohen says she'll make an announcement in June.
Will she or won't she return for the Vancouver Olympics? Sasha Cohen says she'll make an announcement in June. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(04/07/2008) - Figure skaters often talk about stretching themselves in new directions, but Sasha Cohen is giving new meaning to the phrase.

Starting tomorrow night, on the new CBS reality show Secret Talents of the Stars, the Olympic silver medalist will square off against the likes of country singer Clint Black; Star Trek's George Takei; Partridge Family veteran-turned-reality TV-staple Danny Bonaduce; writer/actor Ben Stein; and others to showcase hidden abilities and compete for viewers' votes.

Cohen's "secret" talent -- no secret to any figure skating fan -- is her contortionist-like flexibility, which allows her to perform spirals, spins and split jumps of astounding extension and stretch on the ice.

"The show is basically a competition about secret talents of the stars; it has people you know, doing something you don't know them for," Cohen explained during a backstage break from the Smucker's Stars on Ice tour.

"The producers approached me and asked if I would be interested. I considered it for a while and then decided it sounded like fun. I thought about doing a number showing my flexibility and maybe some acrobatics, and that's kind of how it evolved."

CBS staffers looked at Cohen's touring schedule and the open dates fit with their filming plans. If the skater attracts enough votes, she could return for the semifinal and final episodes, which run through May.

"So come on everybody, vote for me," she laughed, before acknowledging that she expected some tough competition.

"People are singing, some are doing stand-up comedy, and other different kinds of acrobatic things. Everybody's got something different going on."

The busy Cohen will be doing double duty; on Monday she flew home and rehearsed, and today, she has costume fittings before the show is filmed live for its 10:00 p.m. broadcast. Then, she flies back to join the Stars on Ice tour for its final three U.S. performances of the season.

As a child, the 23-year-old Cohen took ballet and gymnastics lessons. Still, the idea for her talent sprang from a number she does in Stars on Ice.

In "Enchantment," Cohen and three of her cast mates -- three-time U.S. champion Michael Weiss; two-time world dance silver medalist Patrice Lauzon; and three-time U.S. pair champion John Zimmerman -- perform a unique routine where Cohen, in ballet slippers, is lifted, stretched and pulled by the trio into impossibly flexible stretched positions.

"We created the number up in Lake Placid, during rehearsals," Cohen said. "Jef Billings [Stars co-creative director] had the idea for the music [by Grammy-winning Darlene Koldenhoven] and he wanted me to be like a pirouette doll. Beyond that, we had no idea about the moves.

"I worked with the guys, and we made things up. We all contributed and put in our thoughts. The guys were like, 'Try this lift,' and I said, 'Let's try this.' Everyone worked together to put the moves to music."

The petite Cohen, who looks like she weigh 90 pounds soaking wet, has no qualms about being tossed around by the three men.

"I really trust them; they are great to work with. They are awesome," she said. "I have so much fun, and the guys are all so good looking. I want to do the program twice every night. Sometimes they make fun of me a little; they're like, 'What did you eat today, you weigh a ton!'"

Although Cohen is naturally limber, she does special exercises and stretches to prepare for "Enchantment."

"Right now I'm really comfortable [with the program], but in the beginning of the season, it was tougher," she said. "I was constantly pushing myself."

Cohen also does two more traditional numbers in the show, Sarah Brightman's "Anytime, Anywhere" and Avril Lavigne's cover of John Lennon's classic "Imagine." The multi-talented skater designed her own costumes for both programs.

"I've loved being on this tour," she said. "All of the skaters spend a lot of time together on the bus; we're a really close cast. It will be sad when it ends, because it has been such a huge part of this year. But the lasting friendships I've made have been the most important thing."

Cohen, who said she "didn't have time" to watch coverage of the recent world championships in Gothenburg, is still undecided about whether or not she will return to competition and try to win one of two ladies' spots on the 2009 U.S. world team for the championships to be held in her hometown of Los Angeles.

"I'm going to make a decision at the end of the summer, somewhere around then," she said. "After the tour, I'm going to go home, take a vacation, then start training again and we'll see."