Monday, February 23, 2009

Sasha Cohen may take shot at 3rd Olympics

Two months ago, despairing of the prospects for U.S. women's figure skating at the 2010 Winter Olympics in terms of both medal chances and excitement, I wrote a Blog item beseeching Sasha Cohen to come back.

After talking with her last week, I get the feeling she will.

First of all, she is aware of the U.S. figure skating rule giving her a bye to the 2010 nationals, where the Olympic team will be selected, because she was a medalist at the last Winter Games.

Second, she is paying attention to results of competitions for the first time in three years.

Third, she has put thoughts of an acting career on hold to concentrate on her own skating.

For now that means touring with the Stars on Ice show that plays the Allstate Arena on Saturday night and doing as much training as she can in 45 minutes of practice time before each show.

Two-time Olympian and three-time U.S. champion Michael Weiss, also with Stars on Ice, is very impressed with what Cohen has shown in those practices.

"She's doing all the triple jumps and working on triple-triple combinations," Weiss said Tuesday.

"Even if she does only triple-doubles, she is pretty much a lock to make the Olympic team because her spins and footwork would be all top levels, and her component (artistic) scores would be so strong."

Cohen will decide about a comeback in June.

"As long as I can keep my body healthy and especially the way I've been skating lately, it feels like the right thing to do," she said. "Going to a third Olympics would be just incredible.

"I have the next 50 years of my life to have fun. Eventually I will have to move on, but I think I can do it again, and I need that purpose and challenge in my life right now."

Cohen, fourth at the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics, left competition after she followed a 2006 Olympic silver medal with a bronze at the worlds a month later.

In her last competition, she received levels 3 and 4—the top two grades—for all spins, spirals and footwork.

"I think I'm very close to where I was in 2006," Cohen said.

"Of course, I haven't been running through long programs recently, but I feel very strong."

Although she has been away from serious skating for three years, Cohen is only 24. Shizuka Arakawa of Japan was 24 when she won the 2006 Olympic gold in Turin, Italy.

What could be the biggest problem for Cohen is the U.S. likely will earn only two women's spots at the next Olympics.

"We have a lot of depth, but I can't say there are skaters who could definitely prevent Sasha from breaking into the top three," said 1984 Sarajevo Olympic champion and NBC commentator Scott Hamilton.

"She still has the flexibility and artistic ability. Yes, she is higher percentage artist than athlete—but that's what the sport needs right now."

Cohen, who never met a camera she didn't like, would revel at having that spotlight on her, especially with the Olympics in North America.

"You miss having all those eyes on you and that kind of world attention," she said.

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