- The Washington Times - Friday, February 24, 2006

TURIN, Italy — Sasha Cohen put on a big show for three minutes last night. She skated how she hoped she would. She gave her coach, her family and a hopeful USA everything they wanted. The only problem was that her routine was four minutes long.

Cohen’s moment had finally arrived. And then, in a flash, it slipped away, taking her right along with it, once again.

The old demons had followed her across the Atlantic. Ghosts of past moments that also slipped away returned. The 21-year-old Californian, trying to win the ladies’ figure skating gold medal in the Winter Olympics, jumped and fell not long after she started her routine to the strains of “Romeo and Juliet.”

We know how that story ended.

Then Cohen jumped and slipped again. Technically, it was not a fall because she managed to stay off the ice. But it was a big mistake, her second in 45 seconds, and it damaged her score.

Just before starting, Cohen, who finished fourth in the 2002 Games, fell during her warmup. Not a good sign. When she took the ice to perform, some observers with trained eyes thought she looked tentative, scared even. She had skipped practice the day before, remaining away from the ice while her music played and her coach read a magazine. Strange. Things appeared to be not quite right.

Sometimes things really are as they appear.

So what do you do when a lifetime of preparation comes to this? What happens when you become the best in your country and possibly the world, and your rival no longer is around to torment you, and you know in your heart that you can do it, and then you realize you probably can’t?

Well, you can quit. Or you keep going.

Cohen kept going. The rest of her performance was fine. She skated like a champ. When she was finished and the perpetual smile wavered, she still had the lead. But she knew it probably wouldn’t last.

Michelle Kwan also knew, if she was watching. The queen of U.S. skating for a decade, the nemesis Cohen never could beat, was somewhere far away from Turin, nursing the groin injury that kept her from a third Olympics and a chance to win her first gold medal.

Physically, she was nowhere close to Cohen. But if you looked closely, you might have seen her shadow.

Irina Slutskaya knew that Cohen’s score probably would not hold up and she, for one, could personally see to it that it didn’t. Skating last, the Russian had entered the evening just .03 points behind Cohen, practically even.

Slutskaya is 27 years of age, ancient by the standards of this strange sport, and now her moment had arrived. Cohen had seen to that. But Slutskaya’s performance was more shocking than Cohen’s. She also fell, but even before and then after, she hardly looked as if she was trying to be great. When that happens, a bronze medal is the best you get. Cohen, even with her mistakes, finished ahead of Slutskaya and took the silver.

That left it up to Shizuka Arakawa. Her moment would not be denied. She took few chances but didn’t have to. She was technically pure, doing exactly what she needed to do, no more, no less, and Japan had its first gold medal of these Olympics, its first gold medal in ladies’ figure skating ever.

Cohen will accept the silver but, with all respect to Arakawa, she lost the gold. So did Slutskaya. And that’s it. She is finished, her Olympic career over and out. Maybe Cohen’s, too. These are the athletes who can say with a straight face that there is no tomorrow.

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