Headline-grabbing Cohen takes the ice in Spokane

Skater defies many predications, just by showing up

If Sasha Cohen can stay on her feet in Spokane, she could be headed to the Olympics.
If Sasha Cohen can stay on her feet in Spokane, she could be headed to the Olympics. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(01/20/2010) - Sasha Cohen has already surpassed many expectations in Spokane.

After all, she's here.

"I've been listening and watching and reading, and it's not even whether Sasha's going to win, or Sasha is going to lose, but if Sasha is going to be here or not," John Nicks said.

"I found that a bit strange. There was never any question in her mind or my mind. The past four or five weeks she has practiced intensely, almost more than she's ever done before."

Cohen, 25, put on a good show during her first practice at noon today, stroking confidently and fearlessly weaving in and out of the five other skaters' paths.

Wearing a cranberry-colored top and black tights, the reigning Olympic silver medalist delivered a near-complete short program run-through to the dramatic "Espani Cani." She hit a triple Lutz, double toe combination, but fell on her next jump, a triple flip. She went on to save the landing on a slightly wild double Axel before wowing the crowd with her spiral sequence and Biellmann spin.

Cohen also landed several triple Lutzes and triple flips outside of the run-through.

"It was fine," the 80-year-old Nicks, who began coaching Cohen when she was just 11, said. "I always enjoy her skating. I think it's something different. She adds enormous interest to this competition."

Nicks wasn't worried about Cohen's slip on the flip, saying the jump looked good in the air and was fine in practice.

"I expect a clean short here," he said.

Asked what his pupil needed to do to win gold here, and to make the U.S. Olympic team, the coach had just four words: "Stay on her feet."

That's something Cohen hasn't always done, even when she's at her best. At the 2006 Olympics in Turin, she led after a clean short. With gold within her grasp, she fell on two triples in her free skate and ceded the title to Japan's Shizuka Arakawa.

Although he made no firm pronouncements, Nicks said this time around may be different.

"She trains 2-3 sessions a day, 45 minutes, and she does a lot of off ice," he said. "It's not so much the training I'm talking about, although it's adequate time. It's the determination, the mental strength.

"She has the ability to do it, sooner or later, and we hope its sooner."

Cohen competed under the International Judging System (IJS) during competitions in 2004-2006, including the Olympics, and has had several U.S. Figure Skating officials monitor her run-throughs at her Alisa Viejo, Calif. rink. But she's yet to face the extra scrutiny technical panels have used to analyze jumps the past few seasons.

Even the strongest athletes, including Brian Joubert, Miki Ando, and Yu-Na Kim, have had deductions for incorrect take-off edges or triples downgraded to doubles. Cohen's triple Lutz may be a concern.

"I think the edge issue on jumps is controversial," Nicks said. "The judging attitudes change on this. Sometimes it's very serious, sometimes it's more minute. We'll see what happens."

Nicks thinks the skater's spirals, spins and "in-betweens" are good as ever; after all, he reminded reporters, Cohen has been using all those moves, and more, during her two years of touring with Smucker's Stars on Ice.

"I think the minute she steps on the ice, she sets herself apart," he said.

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