Cohen's Spark Leads Her to the Short Program Victory

by Sal Zanca, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online
Sasha Cohen
Photo by Michelle Harvath

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(1/8/04) — It's a wonder what a change of coaching can do in two weeks.

"I have had a lot of joy brought back to my skating," said Sasha Cohen (Orange County FSC) Thursday night after capturing the lead in the ladies short program at the 2004 State Farm U.S. Championships.

Cohen, who was previously coached by Tatiana Tarasova, switched over to Robin Wagner a little over two weeks ago. Michelle Kwan (Los AngelesFSC), who is seeking her seventh straight and eighth overall crown, was second. It has been four years since she trailed in a U.S. Championships. She's also made a recent coaching change, switching to Rafael Arutunian about two months ago.

Cohen's short program to "Malaguena" had a spark and sharpness unseen in any of her victories this season and noticeably lacking in her last two competitions.

"I think it was great," Cohen said of her program. "I did the elements so strong and just doing it at nationals just means so much to me. And to do it here with a new coach, pretty much in front of the whole country ... everyone is watching nationals. It felt great. I am just happy."

Maybe it was the coaching change from Tarasova to Wagner just before Christmas that's been part of the extra spark.

"It doesn't really feel like such hard work anymore," Cohen said.

There is a new feeling between pupil and coach.

"We have that chemistry," Cohen added. "I think we really click. We have worked really hard, like I have worked a year and a half, but we have had a lot of fun training. When we train we can work hard but we can laugh about things. I feel like I am getting what I want accomplished, but I am also having the same kind of fun I had when I was eight years old and just sliding all over the place."

Cohen took seven of nine first-place votes; Kwan had one and Jennifer Kirk (SC of Boston) had the other. Kwan, 23, may have lost her chance for first when she had a wobbly landing on her first jump, the double Axel.

"I tried to get my feet under me, and I think it was a wake-up call for the rest of the program," Kwan said. "It was good it was at the beginning. I said 'O.K., Michelle, no more of those landings.'"

In the second half of the program she was more expressive in the routine to "The Feeling Begins."

"After not competing the short program for almost a year, even though I have done this at nationals and Worlds, it is still a different pressure because you know you have certain elements to execute - or be executed," Kwan said.

Kirk was third with her jazzy routine to music from "Chicago." She had some new elements in her short program.

"This is the second time I tried the triple toe-triple toe in the short and the first time I landed it successfully," Kirk said. "It's also the first time I tried the triple Lutz out of footwork. So I am very happy to keep everything together. I am so thrilled with the way I skated. I love this program. It is almost like a show program. I think tonight I really fed off of the audience. After I get the hard elements out of the way I can relax and really connect to them.'"

Angela Nikodinov (All Year FSC) was fourth in a nice comeback after shoulder surgery this year. Amber Corwin (All Year FSC), who did the only other triple-triple combination of the evening, was in fifth.

The free skate, which concludes the competition at the 2004 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships, is Saturday at 7 p.m. in Philips Arena.