Sasha Cohen Prepares for a Run at the Title

U.S. silver medalist Sasha Cohen

Sasha Cohen had already had a fall season most skaters dream about - two victories in ISU Grand Prix events and a silver medal in a third event. She also captured the title at the Crest Whitestrips International Figure Challenge and positioned herself again as one of the top contenders for the U.S. ladies title.

The ladies field has not changed since last year, with Sarah Hughes and Michelle Kwan leading a handful of skaters more than capable of claiming gold. Although Kwan competed in only one event this year, she will certainly be prepared to claim her seventh title. Hughes was off the ice with an injury much of the year, but the Olympic champion has the drive and determination to steal the title away.

"We all want the title," Cohen said on Jan. 8, just days before the start of the 2003 State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships. "We've all been working very hard at home. We'll just wait to see who skates the best that night."

Cohen understands the twists and turns of skating and that despite their limited competitive time this year, both Kwan and Hughes are able to win the gold.

"Having more chances to compete is definitely an advantage," she said. "But you can never count out your competitors. Both Michelle and Sarah are very strong."

This post-Olympic year is unusual in that both the defending Olympic champion and a two-time Olympic medalist are still competing on the eligible circuit. But Cohen is glad for the extra motivation Hughes and Kwan provide.

"Of course it would be easier if everyone retired and it was just me left," she said. "But I'm glad they stayed because it helps me to be a better skater."

Cohen's successful season followed on the heels of her move to Connecticut to train with Tatiana Tarasova. She had previously been under the tutelage of John Nicks in California since she was an intermediate skater. However, she says that Tarasova has helped her become more focused and she has learned to fight harder in competitions.

"When I'm with Tatiana, I'm a lot more prepared for competition," she said. "It's a lot more intense regime. I feel really, really ready.

"Every competition has given me a better feeling," she continued. "I'm more sure of my skating. I feel I'm a better competitor this year ... Tatiana expects more of me than I do [of myself]."

Over the last two years, Cohen has also worked to raise the bar technically by becoming the first woman to land a quadruple jump in competition. She missed that chance when Japan's Miki Ando landed a quad Salchow at the ISU Junior Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final in December.

"Of course I would have liked to have been the first one," she said. "It's still a goal of mine to land it in competition. I just had other priorities ahead of that one this year. It's a trade-off."

Cohen added that she continues to work on the quad and that she may attempt it at the Grand Prix Final or the World Championships if her progress continues with the jump. However, her focus this week and next is on only one thing - skating her best and winning her first U.S. title. She says she is physically prepared for the competition, but she knows it will take a lot of mental strength and toughness to pull it out. So far she has taken advantage of her chances this year and hopes to continue that trend in Dallas.

"I never feel it's now or never," she said. "I always feel it's now, now, now. This was a year of opportunity for me."