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Sasha Cohen answers critics of her Grand Prix meet pullout


I took 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen at her word when Cohen announced last Friday she was withdrawing from this week's Grand Prix competition in Paris because of tendinitis in her leg.

I posted that news here and in the Los Angeles Times' Olympic Blog, "Ticket to Vancouver,'' with her statement. I made no comment other than putting a question mark -- in the Globetrotting version of the Blog -- over a picture of Cohen. The punctuation referred to the status of her comeback.

Some comments on this Blog took me to task for not having questioned why Cohen was pulling out of an upcoming competition only three days after she had done a show in Anaheim, Calif., for which she was paid.

Some who commented also noted correctly that I had been hard on Johnny Weir for complaining about illness at last year's U.S. Championships after he had flown to South Korea for a show. At least one comment suggested that Cohen's comeback after three years away from competition was nothing more than a publicity grab on her part.

Former U.S. world team member Jennifer Kirk joined that chorus, writing in her Blog, "Something about her statement doesn't add up.'' Although Kirk stopped short of doubting that Cohen is injured, she insisted it would be no surprise if Cohen did not compete at all this season: "However, it seems to me that maybe Cohen didn't realize in May just how tough this comeback was going to seem in October,'' Kirk wrote. "My guess? Sometimes the fear of failure can be more painful than any injury.''

(Failure is something Kirk is familiar with, having slid to 17th- and 18th-place finishes in her two world meet appearances and quitting a year before the 2006 Olympics; Cohen, by comparison, has an Olympic silver, two world silvers, a world bronze and no finish worse than fourth in five world and two Olympic appearances.)

But the question about the show and the timing of the withdrawal is legitimate. Unlike Kirk and those who sent comments, I had the advantage (and responsibility) of raising it the way a real journalist does -- by letting Cohen give her side of the story before commenting on it.

(In this case, there really is no other side of the story. Only Cohen knows what her body and mind are telling her.)

Cohen and I spoke by telephone Tuesday afternoon.

Here is what she said:

Q.  Sasha, there has been a lot of critical comment on the Internet about your doing the Improv-Ice show three days before you withdrew from the Bompard Trophy event because of a lingering injury.  Can you go through the chronology and explain why you skated in the show?

A.  I had an injury on the outside of my right calf that happened at the end of September. It prevented me from doing flips and lutzes (two of her triple jumps) and also affected my landings on loops. I took it easy on jumping for a while and didn't have the opportunity to train my programs even though I was still skating. I did do one show but only with two jumps: triple salchow and double axel.  I tried my lutz and didn't land it there so basically I felt then I wasn't able to do a competitive program with lutzes and flips and be ready to compete in Paris.  I am starting to do long program run-throughs this week but the injury set me back so I wouldn't have been ready for Paris.

Q.  The critics are asking, "How can she be skating a show if she is supposed to be taking time off to heal?"

A.  I never took time off.  I just had to stop doing flips and lutzes for a while and minimize my other jumping so I couldn't really train my short and long programs. That show was (a day after) I started doing flips and lutzes again, and that was just one week before Paris.

Q.  Some people have suggested the problem wasn't your injury but your not wanting to compete in Paris against Kim Yuna (the reigning world champion) and Mao Asada (the 2008 world champion).

A. I really, really wanted to go to Paris. I miss competing.  I'm really loving training right now.  I will be competing against Yuna at Skate America (in mid-November) anyway.

Q. How do you react to the critics bashing you on the Internet?

A.  Fortunately, I don't go online and read any of that. There are so many shows I have turned down -- in Italy, in Japan. I just did this show because it was my home town, and I had to miss only a half day of training. I did one show in Chicago (last month), and I turned down about 10 offers I have had (for other shows) so I could have the time to train . . .

It's hard to turn them down because that's also my income. I don't get support from U.S. Figure Skating because I didn't compete last year and now I'm paying for coaching and costumes and everything.

Q.  How many jumps total did you do in the Improv-Ice show?

A.  A double axel, two triple salchows, and I fell on a triple lutz.

Q.  Do you have any doubt in your mind you will be ready for Skate America?

A.  I have a month until Skate America.  I am able to resume my training full-on right now. I think it should be good.  My triple-triple (flip-toe) is really close. I am skating so much faster that I am early (ahead of the music) everywhere in my program.  I feel much better, much more powerful. I'm excited to compete.  I wish I had a little more time (before Paris), but I don't. I will probably do an exhibition skate for practice before I go to Skate America.

Q. What have you been doing for the injury?

A.  Now it's Celebrex, Aleve and massage. I did ultrasound and ice, and then I wrapped it. A lot of it was just leaving it alone because I strained it from over tapping (on jump takeoffs). Because it was already strained, even using it on loops or the landings of other jumps where I use that leg to grip. So I just had to lay off the repetitions of everything, and that is what set me back.

The important thing for me is January (the U.S. Championships). I have to be great there, make the team. These events in the fall are times to practice, check out my levels (the difficulty levels that judges assign). I had four or five months to get back into the (competitive) shape I was in before.  I'm getting there, just not quite as fast as I would like, but things are going well. 

+ + + + + + + +

After listening to Cohen, I have two comments:

1.  Doing the show gave Cohen definitive proof she could not be ready for the Paris competition, but it also made her an easy target for critics.

2.  If her comeback falls short -- and even if she abandons it before doing a single competition -- figure skating will have gained attention at a time when it is dropping out of sight on the U.S. sports landscape. It is not Cohen's fault that people are more excited about watching her than the other current leading women in the United States, none of whom appears to have the remotest chance of challenging for the 2010 Olympic title.  (Not since 1964, three years after the plane crash that killed the best U.S. skaters, have U.S. women been given no chance at the Olympic title.)

Sure, Cohen is unlikely to make the U.S. Olympic team and even less likely to be a medal contender in Vancouver. Yes, I know the circumstances are different, because the skaters I am about to cite were not out of competition for three years; yes, I know this logic could also apply to Rachael Flatt or Caroline Zhang or Mirai Nagasu in 2010; but ask yourself how much chance would anyone have given China's Lu Chen to win the 1998 Olympic bronze after she failed to qualify for the free skate at the 1997 worlds or Paul Wylie to win the 1992 Olympic silver after he was last of 20 qualifiers for the free skate at the 1991 worlds?

-- Philip Hersh

Photo: Sasha Cohen competes at the 2006 Olympic Games. Credit: Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times

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Comments (12)

"Nobody can hurt me without my permission." - Gandhi

"Hatred is the coward's revenge for being intimidated." - George Bernard Shaw

And that's all I have to say about any of this.

I think somebody's just nervous that his figure skating blog's popularity might dwindle now that there's a better, more experienced (in more ways than one) writer in town.

In fairness to Sasha, she did the right thing in pulling out of the Grand Prix event. I was wondering if her injury was the same one she aggravated in Dallas during the Stars On Ice show. Thanks, Phil, for following up on this issue and answering the critics...whether or not they liked the answer is inmaterial!

I'm shocked no one's brought up Sasha's 2004-2005 season. She was dealing also with injury. She also dropped out of the Grand Prix Series. Dealing with a coaching change from Robin Wagner back to John Nicks. And she still managed to place 2nd at Nationals and almost won the World Championships in Russia comming in 2nd to a tough rival then Irina Slutskaya.
Sasha in 2006 also had injury and only competed in one Grand Prix Season to only win Nationals that year, come 2nd in the Olympics "winning the short, and getting a bronze at Worlds after an exhausting season.
I think its horrible Sasha's being attacked. I think the media's pushing her as another Michelle Kwan incident back in 2006. And the reality is.. Sasha isn't Michelle Kwan. Sasha has her own way of competing. And from how I see it.. Sasha's comming back for herself. Not for the USA to get medals at the Olympics. But because she knows she's a talented skater who still has better artistry and balletic line than any skater competing the past few years. Why not go for another Olympics? If she's not good enough that's for the judges. The fans will still love her no matter what.

Once again, Mr. Hersh writes an article of questionable integrity, cheapened with low blows directed at individuals with different opinions, especially Ms. Kirk; although not a high finisher at the world championships, she certainly was competitive in her amateur career, and unlike Mr. Hersh, offers a unique perspective as someone with actual experience in the field. I find Mr. Hersh's "real" journalism as off-putting as I find Ms. Kirk's writing engaging.

WHY is she back in the first place? Last time I heard anything about her, she had given up skating to "try acting." She was in like a Bratz movie or something horrible like that. Really shows commitment to your sport, doesn't it??

She had her chance, and never got it together enough to skate clean programs when it really mattered. I think everyone is tired of her. I would much rather focus on solid, emerging talent like Caroline Zhang for a chance at a medal in Vancouver.

I agree that the U.S. ladies may not be the favorites for medalling in Vancouver, but I think that is because women from around the world have become much stronger. In the past few Olympics, the strongest field has come from the U.S., but this year is different because the strongest skaters are from Japan and a certain Korean. I think the U.S. has many talented women, but they just are not at the level of the women from other countries this Olympic cycle. Maybe this will be an opportunity for the other disciplines, dance, men, pairs, to be the highlight for the U.S. The U.S. ice dance field is the strongest that I have ever seen in relation to international competition. It looks like it will be an exciting year, and I hope that everyone stays healthy!

ok.....well i love sasha but she has no chance....everyone thought caroline, ashley,rachael,and mirai wouldn't be able to beat kimmie and mirai, well look what happened sasha has the tiniest chance in the world...shes prob..hoping that one or two drops out of nationals and the other two have bad skates...and we cant forget alissa czisny...and the newest contender, alexe gilles, who recently placed 5th at eric trophee bompard

I am glad to know more info on why Sasha pulled out of the Eric Bompard Grand Prix event. I've been so excited to see her back on the ice and competing again. She has the best artistic and interpretive qualities in the world compared to any other skater I have ever seen on the ice, regardless of her jumping inconsistencies. When she's on, she's on. No one can touch her on her spiral sequences, no one can do the split position turn, and a few other moves she has had up her sleeve in the past. And her laybacks are breath taking. You can't take your eyes off of her when she skates.

I think her and several other previous skaters comebacks helps the sport and motivates the other competitors out there to work harder. Plus it makes competitions more exciting! We have a lot of up-and-coming talent but they aren't ready for the Olympics in technique yet. Caroline Zhang is wonderful to watch, however, she lacks speed going into her jumps and NEEDS to fix her weird quirks when it comes to her flip and lutz jumps. They are always downgraded and that will cost her down the road if she doesn't work on them.

I am looking forward to watching Mao and Kim-Yu-na go head to head this season. Its going to be amazing. Both so talented and have so much to offer to the sport.

I am French, live in Paris and and was there last week for the Eric Bompard Grand Prix Event. I had decided to buy tickets to attend this amazing competition because Sasha Cohen was supposed to be there.

I was really disappointed to hear that she couldn't be here. I realized that I would never see her skating in front on me, but just on TV... Anyway according to me she took the right decision. Everybody seems to forget that she was injured !!

I can imagine your reaction if she had come to Paris, skated and got such a worst injury that she would have been deprived her from the Olympics ! One would have said : "had she been more reasonable..."

I'm far from this American polemic and don't care about it. All I know is that she's one of the best skater I've ever seen and no-one is allowed to judge her. Except maybe the nine ones who will be in Vancouver next February.
In Paris I saw them all skating : Yuna Kim, Mao Asada, Caroline Zhang and Alexe Gilles... They are brilliant, talented (specially Yuna Kim, who is far better than the others) but they all lack Sasha's maturity and experience.

Many European people believe that Americans are arrogant, proud and so full of dignity. I think that it's the same kid of stupid cliché as the one, well-known in the US, saying that there is no electricity nor water in France... Of course, both of those clichés are wrong !!
Today many people lack dignity and Sasha Cohen doesn't. She was courageous enough to answer critics. She was treated as a goddess three years ago after she got her silver medal in Turin. Don't you remember ? Now many of you say she's worth nothing (or almost). It's so unfair.

Instead you should be proud to have sportsmen and sportswomen like her who are strong enough to decide to go back training that hard and competing for your country (or even for themselves), to show evidence that they are worth more than what was written or said those last weeks, whatever the result may be.

PS : Those who criticize so easily should go skating once in their lives, that way they will see how difficult it is. On ice, you can't lie : if you are tired, angry or nervous, everybody will see it and you won't skate your best. End of story.

Hersh should know that "Cohen's lutz" jump is actualy a flip.

Criticizing Jennifer Kirk with your snarky comments doesn't change the fact that Sasha is a choker. So is Jenny, which qualifies her to make the comments she has made.


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