Cohen says she's a go for U.S. Championships

2006 silver medalist hopes for third Olympic team

Sasha Cohen will be vying for a place on her third Olympic team in Spokane.
Sasha Cohen will be vying for a place on her third Olympic team in Spokane. (JR Walker)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/08/2010) - It looks like the third time might be the charm for Sasha Cohen.

Earlier this week, the Olympic silver medalist told several media outlets she intends to compete at the 2010 AT&TU.S. Figure Skating Championships, which for ladies begins in Spokane on January 21. Yesterday, representatives for Cohen confirmed her plans remain unchanged.

"Of course, I'm nervous about coming back because I'm finally putting myself out there for everyone to see," Cohen told Juliet Macur of The New York Times. "But if I skate the way I do in practice, I am confident that I will make the team."

Last fall, Cohen withdrew from Trophee Eric Bompard and Skate America, citing tendinitis in her right calf. Since then, many in the skating world have adopted a wait-and-see attitude towards her return to competition.

"Well, I'm skeptical. I don't know about anyone else," Ashley Wagner, the country's top-performing lady on the Grand Prix circuit this fall, said on a teleconference earlier this week.

"I just think it's very, very hard to have your first competition be nationals, but you know, I'm not counting her out, she's still part of the equation. If she's there, she's there, if she's not, she's not. But I'm definitely not counting her out."

In an interview with icenetwork the week after Skate America, the 25-year-old Cohen said despite the withdrawals, her training was going well, and she had regained all of her triple jumps.

"My body feels good; now I can do everything in practice," she said. "I can do all the jumps. I'm capable of doing a six or seven-triple program at nationals if I skate well.

"I really love competing, so withdrawing from Skate America was frustrating, but that's life. I had a hard summer training and I have the rest of November, December and part of January to put it all together."

Cohen added that she had hoped to have a triple-triple combination in her arsenal at Spokane but was hampered all summer and fall by boot problems.

"I've gone through four or five pairs; they're too big, they're too small," she said. "It's definitely a little frustrating to a figure skater, but it's part of the process. Not much in life comes easy."

While several of the top U.S. competitors, including two-time U.S. silver medalist Rachael Flatt, include triple-triple combinations in their programs, it is by no means mandatory.

Defending U.S. champion Alissa Czisny won the title with just three clean triples in her free skate, and Wagner qualified as the sole U.S. ladies' entrant to December's Grand Prix Final without doing a clean a triple-triple in competition.

"I'm definitely going to technically try to get the most points I can with spins, footwork and spirals and let the music really inspire me," Cohen said. "[My choreographer] Lori Nichol is so talented; she's really brought out a new side to my skating."

Nichol saw Cohen twice during the early fall and again in December. The two spent much of their time together re-working the skater's free program to Beethoven's "Moonlight Sonata."

"She came to me with her music, which she had been using for a show program last year," Nichol said. "I think someone else choreographed a free skate, which wasn't working out. So I didn't choose the music, nor did I use my normal music editor, Lenore Kay. That was a little difficult; I wasn't in total agreement with some of the musical phrases, but by then it was so close to nationals, and she was comfortable with it.

"I re-did the program a lot, and tried to freshen up some musical points she may not have noticed before and bring new life to it."

Nichol was impressed with the intensity of Cohen's practice sessions.

"She was very, very serious about listening, about doing new things with her skating," she said. "My hat's off to her that she's so willing to do this at her age and with the success she's already had."

Nichol said Cohen's programs were designed to fare well under the International Judging System, where non-jump elements can rack up significant points.

"It would certainly be frightening if Sasha Cohen couldn't do a Level 4 spiral sequence," she said. "She is so masterful at those sequences; perhaps she was not used to counting off the [required] seconds, but she is now. It will certainly look gorgeous.

"We really worked hard on the step sequences, getting Sasha to shift her weight so that she could do the steps quickly. We certainly choreographed the steps to get a Level 3, plus [high execution scores] and good Program Components. Level 4 for steps, well, that's pretty elusive."

Spokane will be Cohen's first competition since winning a bronze medal at the 2006 World Championships. She also won the U.S. title that season.

Cohen began her comeback training under Rafael Arutunian, but has since returned to John Nicks, who guided most of her eligible career. Nicks will be on hand in Spokane, where he will also coach two-time defending U.S. pair champions Keauna McLaughlin and Rockne Brubaker.

With only two Olympic spots up for grabs, Cohen will have to fend off challenges from Flatt, Wagner and Czisny as well as 2008 U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu, who showed improved form at her last event, Skate Canada; and reigning U.S. bronze medalist Caroline Zhang.