Flashes of Brilliance
Sasha Cohen and Michelle Kwan compete
in a battle of skating brilliance
By Jim Pasero
Sasha Cohen beat Michelle Kwan this January at the U.S. Figure Skating
Championships in Portland? That’s like asking if the Boston Red
Sox can beat the New York Yankees.
Kwan is the New York Yankees of the figure skating world.
record is staggering. She’s the seven-time defending American champion.
She’s also won Worlds five times, and is a two-time Olympic medalist.
Or as Michelle Kwan’s agent, Shep Goldberg, commented on Michelle’s
record, “She hasn’t been off the podium since ’95”—and
that means all competitions she has entered.
record makes her one of the most famous athletes in the world. And as
Michael Jordan was the face of Wheaties, Michelle was the face of Campbell’s
Soup. You don’t get much bigger than that. Even Joe Torre’s
Yankees with their four world titles, seven American league pennants,
and nine consecutive division titles can’t compete.
Well, Sasha’s gaining.
Not only is Sasha Cohen a brilliant talent, but she’s also a once
in a generation skater. Think Peggy Fleming but possibly with even more
talent. She defeated Michelle Kwan at the ’04 World Figure Skating
Championships in Dortmund, Germany, finishing second to Kwan’s third,
behind Japan’s only current world champion, Shizuka Arakawa.
admires the skating of past Olympic champions Kurt Browning and Kristi
Yamaguchi, is, at 20, four years Kwan’s junior. If she can control
her extraordinary talent and skate the elusive “clean” long
program, she may be ready to challenge her rival for the title. Cohen
talked with BrainstormNW about the challenges of skating “clean.”
year I get stronger and stronger. Last year I did four clean long performances.
The year before I did only two. It is extremely difficult to do a clean
long performance. It is not easy out there,” says Cohen, good naturedly
commenting about past mishaps on the ice. “People say when someone
falls that they weren’t focused, or they were nervous, but the blade
is only an eighth of an inch. You have to be very precise.”
skaters as nervous on the ice as they appear on television? “Yes,”
says Cohen, “but more nervous at the beginning. You feel more solid
with every jump you land.”
is she the most nervous? “Anytime you are not
on the ice, that’s when you are the most nervous.”
every wonder if all the hard work and the high-wire, nerve-shattering
world of figure skating is worth it? “Yes,” says Cohen, “there
are times that you feel this is so tough, all that agony. But that feeling
you get when you skate well makes it all worthwhile…then I want
to go out and do it again.”
right about the agony. “It takes ten months to get in shape and
you can get out of shape in a month.”
grew up in Southern California. Her father, Roger, is American-born, but
her mother, Galina, was born in the former Soviet Union, in Kiev. Her
maternal grandfather once performed for Stalin, she says, in a parade
in Red Square. In March, the World Championships are in Moscow, and Sasha
looks forward to returning to Moscow for the competition. “The Russians
are great skating fans, and they’ve always been really supportive.”
Sasha Cohen gets to Moscow, she’s coming to Portland, and will be
arriving in January from her new home in Manhattan, a city that has become
a retreat for her both because she find its stimulating and becomes sometimes
even someone as famous as Sasha Cohen can get lost in the crowd. “Sometimes
I am recognized in New York, and sometimes I am not. Not everyone is a
city is also close to her new coach Robin Wagner (former coach of Olympic
gold medalist Sarah Hughes), whom Cohen calls “fantastic and so
As for Portland,
Cohen is no stranger to the city. Her uncle lives here. And he will be
in the stands on January 15th when Sasha Cohen and Michelle Kwan perform
their long programs for the national title. With Cohen focused on defeating
the seven-time national champion, does it leave room to get to know Michelle
socially? “No,” says Sasha, “competitors don’t
socialize with each other. We say, ‘Hi, nice to see you,’
however, friends with some of the male skaters and the pair skaters. That
makes sense, because just like when the Red Sox are playing the Yankees,
there is only so much time for talking…Portland, Oregon, you are
in for a treat.