Cohen: Experience a major asset

Updated: March 27, 2004, 11:57 AM ET
By Cynthia Faulkner | ESPN.com

In the photo spread, she's in a black skating costume with her face hanging upside down as she stretches one hand onto the ice. Her legs, not showing the slightest bend or strain, despite the 6-inch black heels, reveal the flexibility that makes her one of the elite skaters in the world.

It appears that Sasha Cohen, now age 19, is all grown up.

Her maturity shows in competition, too, making her a favorite at the World Figure Skating Championships in Dortmund, Germany. She fell just short, finishing second.

"I think the experience of having done quite a few competitions is a big factor," Cohen told ESPN.com recently. "Knowing what to expect. Knowing how to prepare. … Being able to put myself in the right mind-frame when I compete.

"And to know that I've worked very hard and enjoy it and to believe that I'm going to accomplish what I want to has really helped me to excel."

Since last season she's grown an inch and is now 5-foot-2. ("Every inch counts!" she emphasizes.) Still petite, however, her grace, poise and gymnastic flexibility on the ice have brought her three Grand Prix event titles this season -- plus she upset fellow American Michelle Kwan at the Campbell's International Figure Skating Classic. She has yet to win a medal at worlds, but she adjusted better than most to the new judging system under the choreography of former coach Tatiana Tarasova.

The switch from Tarasova, who has coached multiple Olympic champions, to Robin Wagner, who coached Sarah Hughes' win in Salt Lake, right before nationals shocked some.

So far, Cohen seems pleased, her voice showing her excitement of working with Wagner.

"It's really nice to have a coach that skates with you," Cohen said. "And Robin's a great skater. She's really helped me with my edge work. Being able to watch her skate and emulate what she does. It really helps, you know, to make progress."

Edge work, which refers to using the side of the blade, is important for various skating moves, but especially for spins and to set up a jump properly.

"We're working on being able to get every piece of the ice to help me move, and balance and power strength," Cohen said.

Use of the ice is more important under the new judging system, which though it will not be used at worlds this year will be fully implemented next year.

"Definitely it really shows program skaters that use ice and get power," Cohen said. "We've really built up a good solid base."

An unfortunate bout with shingles made nationals in January a painful experience in many ways. She finished in second place after suffering from shingles in December.

"I got that right around Christmastime and that was terrible," Cohen said. "You know, it zapped my energy. I was a mess, so it's good that that is over." It's not on her mind now.

"It was a competition and I was on to the next," Cohen said. "I was really excited to start working with Robin [Wagner] full time and be in a training environment and get everything done."

There was little time to bond with Wagner, but that's changed since January. At first Cohen commuted from Avon, Conn., where her family moved after leaving California so Cohen could work with Tarasova, to Hackensack, N.J. It was a two-hour haul several days a week, although sometimes she and her mother would go into New York on Sundays for a little shopping.

But as the date for worlds grew closer, Cohen moved into Wagner's Long Island home in order save time and train more. They're together from 8 a.m. until they return home at about 9 p.m.

"We have a lot of fun together," Cohen said.

She still goes home on the weekends to spend time with her family, which plans to move to New York once Sasha's 15-year-old sister, Natasha, finishes the school year.

With Wagner, Sasha has been working on the all-important triple-triple jumps for worlds. But Cohen still hopes to be the first woman to land a quadruple salchow in competition. She won't try in Dortmund, but perhaps in the future.

"Definitely at this point it's midseason, but sometime after that … I'll explore it with Robin and work on it and train it," Cohen said. "Because I can do it and it should be done again."

She wasn't doing any jumping at all when she fractured vertebrae that caused her to miss the 2000-01 season. Before then, it appeared that it would be she, and not Hughes, who would be the first to take home Olympic gold. Instead she sat on the sidelines while Hughes gained valuable competitive experience.

"I was disappointed in missing a world championship and missing the nationals," Cohen said. "But I knew I really didn't have a choice. I had to sit it out. … It was really smart to do that. I learned to take care of my body from then on."

Putting it behind her, for now, she wants to skate cleanly at worlds -- not holding back at all.

Long term, she wants to see how far she can push herself.

"To see what level I can skate. How I can push every aspect of my skating artistically, technically," Cohen said. "How tough I can be mentally and how tough I can be physically and how many great performances I can do.

As skating is an individual sport, she spends quite a bit of time managing her own career, too. She designed the yellow dress she's wearing for the short program, although Russian designer Mare Talbott designed her costume for her Swan Lake long program. Black and white to illustrate the two swans, it perfectly suits her balletic grace.

"I love working with costumes," Cohen said. "I love fashion. … very much enjoy the performance part of skating."

When she's not busy working on costumes, selecting music and training, she said she loves to model.

"It's hard work, but it is definitely fun," Cohen said. "I just enjoy seeing their beautiful clothes and then the great finished product that comes out of it. It's really rewarding, very satisfactory, to see a beautiful spread come out in a magazine after you put some work into it."

In April, she'll join the Champions on Ice tour. When she does get some free time, she reads, watches a couple of favorite TV shows (she'll have to find some new ones as she enjoys Friends and Sex and the City, both in their last season) and hangs out with her family.

Food and family are frequently mentioned together. Her mom, Galina, who spends her time helping Cohen manage her career, while also taking care of her other daughter, is a great cook, Cohen said.

"I do cook, but I cook really simple food," Cohen said. "She's an amazing cook. She's helps me take care of everything.

"It is tough to juggle everything. But it's exciting. I like having a full schedule. I like having things to do."

Despite her hectic pace and globe-trotting life, first and foremost, she wants what most of us want.

"My immediate goals are, you know, to be happy with everything," Cohen said.

Cynthia Faulkner is the Olympics editor for ESPN.com.

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