Sasha Cohen makes news in U.S. that's big news in Japan
I'm big in Japan.
Or, to avoid an arm injury patting myself on the back, Sasha Cohen is.
And so is figure skating.
A lot bigger in this case than either was at home, which is not a surprise, given the declining interest in figure skating in the United States.
Okay, okay, I'll get to the point.
I noticed Thursday that my Wednesday scoop on Cohen's comeback still was the Number 2 most viewed story on chicagotribune.com.
That made me curious about the number of viewer hits it had received.
The Tribune sports department's tech genius, Adam Caldarelli, found that in a hurry: 23,771 as of Friday morning.
But the raw number wasn't the most interesting part of what Caldarelli unearthed as he did a breakdown of where the viewers had come from.
And 85 percent of them found the story on Yahoo's Japanese website, yahoo.co.jp.
Those readers undoubtedly are wondering whether Cohen, 24, the 2006 Olympic silver medalist who has not competed in three years, is a threat to the 2010 Winter Olympic medal hopes of Japan's two active world champions, Miki Ando (2007) and Mao Asada (2008).
Curiously enough, there didn't seem to be any viewers on websites from Korea, home of reigning world champion and 2010 Olympic favorite Kim Yuna.
Meanwhile, since the cat was out of the bag, U.S. Figure Skating pushed up the teleconference at which Cohen was to announce her return by a week, so it took place Friday.
So, for my Japanese readers (arigato!) and everyone else, a few highlights from the media question-and-answer with Sasha:
Q. There are a lot of great young skaters. Are you trying to beat them for an Olympic spot or medal? Is this just about you at this point?
A. It started with me just wanting to come back for a third Olympics, to accept this challenge. Then as you get into it, you are aware of your competitors, and you don't want to go just to be your best but to be the best. There are amazing skaters in the world, technically, artistically . . . I feel confident that I can come up to that level.
Q. How much did not having a dominant U.S. skater now help you think you can be competitive in this group?
A. My decision wasn't factored into that because in the world, it's a very strong stage right now.
Q. Why did you pick Rafael Arutunian as your coach? (Cohen had been coached by John Nicks the rest of her elite career.)
A. I have known Rafael since 2000 when I took some lessons from him in Sun Valley. But I didn't know until I went to Lake Arrowhead last summer and started taking lessons (with Arutunian, who also coached Asada and Michelle Kwan) and saw how much I was improving and absolutely loving training. I just felt like I was 10 years old wanting to learn how to skate all over again.
Q. How did getting older make you a better skater through life experience?
A. Skating was something I did my whole life, and I felt very burned out after 2006. I took a break, and I realized how special skating was and how it really defined me and gave me this sense of purpose. Coming back this year, I feel very fresh, like it's my first Olympics, my first nationals. I'm so excited to be back and doing this again. Hopefully, that energy, that feeling will show in my skating . . . I missed having a challenge to step up to and say, "Wow: Can I do this? Am I capable of this? What are the limits? What can I become?''
Q. Did you have any second thoughts after the United States qualified for only two women's spots at the Olympics?
A. I think it's unfortunate we will have a smaller U.S. team -- but no. I'm thinking big, demanding a lot of myself to try to make the team and hopefully be able to contend with the medalists from worlds.
Q. Two Olympic champions, Brian Boitano (1988) and Viktor Petrenko (1992), came back for the 1994 Olympics and didn't do as well as they hoped (6th and 4th). Why do you think your situation might be different from theirs?
A. If you also look back, (Ekaterina) Gordeeva and Sergei (Grinkov) came back in 1994 (they were 1988 champions in pairs) and won. It's different for everyone. Some people who never left cannot do well at any of their Olympics either. I can't tell you what's going to happen less than a year from now, but I know this is what I really want to do, and a fear of failure isn't going to stop me from trying.
-- Philip Hersh
(Photo: Sasha Cohen at the 2006 Olympics. She wants to do the ring thing again. Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)