Sasha Cohen plots return to competition

2010 Olympics are goal; "I've still got more to give"

Sasha Cohen joins an all-star cast in "Skate for the Heart."
Sasha Cohen joins an all-star cast in "Skate for the Heart." (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(05/07/2009) - After months of speculation, Sasha Cohen has an answer.

Yes, she will return to competition and bid to qualify for her third Olympic team.

"I've been thinking about it for a while," said the 24-year-old. "The whole magic of the Olympics is coming up. I want to challenge myself. I think I have enough inside of me.

"As the time to the Olympics came closer, I knew I had to decide, figure out which Grand Prix [competitions] I wanted to do, get a master plan. I'm actually making a more official announcement next week."

Cohen, who watched the recent world championships in Los Angeles, said she was impressed but not intimidated by the performances of skaters like world champion Yu-Na Kim; silver medalist Joannie Rochette; and bronze medalist Miki Ando, as well as 2008 world champion Mao Asada, who failed to win a medal despite landing a triple Axel-double toe combination in her free skate.

"We watched a little bit of worlds... we lost the satellite a couple of times. It was a lot of fun seeing Evan [Lysacek] win," she said.

"Yes, there are a lot of great skaters right now, but this is more of a personal thing for me. I miss the challenge and I miss that part of my life."

Asked if she thought she could cope with the ever-growing challenges of the International Judging System (IJS), with its precise requirements for high-level spins, footwork and spirals -- not to mention the triple-triple combinations of younger athletes like Kim and Asada -- Cohen replied, "Definitely, yeah. I've spent time training this winter and spring and I've already improved a lot."

Cohen was coached for most of her eligible career by John Nicks in Southern California, also doing stints with Tatiana Tarasova and Robin Wagner. For her return, she will train under Rafael Arutunian in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., who also coached Michelle Kwan during her final competitive seasons.

"I've worked with him in the past and also last summer," she said. "I've already made a lot of progress. We've really clicked."

At least one observer of her practices was not surprised by Cohen's decision. Richard Callaghan, long-time coach of six-time U.S. champion Todd Eldredge, was on hand for a skating tour practice before worlds and was impressed with the skater's technical prowess.

"She landed a triple Lutz-triple toe," he said. "She was working hard. She wouldn't be doing that if she wasn't serious."

Competing under IJS, Cohen won the 2006 U.S. title; a silver medal at the 2006 Turin Olympics; and two world medals. (She also won a world silver in 2004). In Turin, she faltered on her first two triples before landing five others, including a triple flip-double toe combination. At the world championships the following month in Calgary, she was a heavy favorite for gold and led after the short program, but landed just three clean triples in her free skate to place third behind U.S. teammate Kimmie Meissner and Japan's Fumie Suguri.

During much of the past two seasons performing in skating shows, Cohen has focused on the entertainment aspect of skating, wowing crowds with her flexibility and charisma while limiting her jumps to mostly double Axels and triple Salchows. She has also intermittently pursued an acting career, participating in an actor's studio at Harvard University during the summer of 2007; playing roles on the big screen in Moondance Alexander and Blades of Glory; and appearing in TV shows such as CSI: NY.

While Cohen would like to compete at two ISU Grand Prix events this fall, she will have to wait for the official ISU event assignments in June to see if she receives her wish. (U.S. Figure Skating can assign her one of its three ladies' slots at Skate America, held from Nov. 13-15 in Lake Placid, if it chooses). Regardless, as a 2006 Olympic medalist she is eligible for a bye to the 2010 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. At that point, the path to Vancouver becomes a bit more difficult: just two ladies will qualify to compete for the U.S.

Cohen will finish up a skating tour in Vancouver on May 12, after that, she plans a short vacation to rest a foot injury before settling down to work with Arutunian.

"Actually, I don't even know if I'm going to go anywhere but home yet," Cohen said. "I've got to get ready, start the process."

Update, May 8: During a teleconference Friday, U.S. Figure Skating director of media and public relations Scottie Bibb announced the 2006 Olympic silver medalist had submitted the appropriate paperwork and formally requested to be assigned to Skate America, the ISU Grand Prix event to be held in Lake Placid, N.Y. on Nov. 12-15. Grand Prix assignments will be announced after May 30th.

"After not competing for the last three years, I realized how much I missed competitive skating and I felt like I had one more Olympics in me," said Cohen, who placed fourth at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

"The challenge of being on the Olympic platform ... it's absolutely magical. I feel there is a lot in me I can work on and improve upon and even be a better skater than at the last two Olympic Games."

While Cohen acknowledged it would be tough, time-wise, to train the quadruple Salchow she attempted in competition in the early 2000s, she thought consistent triple-double combinations and, perhaps, a triple-triple combination were within her reach.

"Throughout the fall and spring I trained quite a bit in L.A. ... I came back to everything I used to do, [including] the triple Lutz, and close to triple-triples. This was while I was coming back and forth while on tour and it gave me the confidence to make this decision.

"My body came back really fast and working with Rafael [Arutunian], he really helped me and I feel like a much stronger skater and jumper. ... I'm really happy with the way my skating has been going, and I feel confident I can come up to that level."

Cohen announced earlier this week she would train under Arutunian, best known as the former coach of Michelle Kwan and Jeff Buttle, in Lake Arrowhead, Calif. While she acknowledged the many tough hours of practice ahead, she said, "I know I would regret so much if I didn't come back and see what I could do. ... Life is maybe 10-20 percent what happens to you, and the rest is how you react to the challenge."