Sunday, January 24, 2010

Sasha Cohen U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Sasha Cohen, 25, performed a lyrical, sophisticated program with no major flaws. She drove the crowd at Spokane Arena to its feet with elegant spirals, complex spins and her trademark showmanship. As her music stopped, she stood motionless for several seconds, soaking in a thunderous ovation, having proved herself a leading contender perhaps, even, the favorite — to land one of two Olympic team slots after the deciding long program Saturday. In her return to Olympic-style skating after taking a silver medal at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin, Italy, Cohen finished second to Mirai Nagasu in the short program late Thursday night. Two American women will qualify for the Vancouver Olympics next month.

Oddly, though, after promoting Cohen so heavily, NBC and the skating federation made it difficult to watch her perform or read about it in the morning paper. It is a curious way to elevate a declining sport, having theshort program end at 2 a.m. Eastern time. Even Michelle Kwan, who is in graduate school at Tufts in the Boston suburbs, texted a friend to say she couldn’t stay awake to watch.

What Kwan and others missed was a restorative effort from Cohen, who struggled with tendinitis in her calf through the fall and early winter, withdrawing from two Grand Prix events. Only in the last two or three weeks did she grow confident and fit enough to compete at these championships.

Since the 2006 Olympics, Cohen has been touring as a show skater. That, along with her age, has given her a presence, refined artistry and maturity that many younger performers still lack. Rachael Flatt, 17, uses pep to disguise her lack of speed and artistry. Nagasu, 16, jumped and spun mesmerizingly on Thursday, but she is still given to bouts of crying and lapses of self-assurance.

“It’s women and girls,” Scott Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic champion said of the difference between Cohen and her competitors. “I don’t want it to sound cruel. But what she has is a maturity and a confidence that other skaters are acquiring.”

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