Cohen, strong in practice, faces 'substantial challenge'
That was apparent Wednesday when Cohen skated before an audience in a competitive environment for the first time since 2006.
The 2006 Olympic silver medalist, rail thin as always, fell on a triple-flip jump in a run-through of her short program during practice at the U.S. Championships, in which the women's competition begins with Thursday's short program at Spokane (Wash.) Arena.
"Ice is slippery sometimes,'' Cohen said of the fall in a text message an hour after she finished practice.
Skating the two-minute, 45-second short program to Spanish music, "Espana Cani,'' she landed a triple lutz-double toe combination with ease and followed with a stunning layback spin finished with a leg over the head in a Biellmann position.
Cohen, 25, showed impressive speed throughout the 40-minute practice. She landed triple flips at other points in the practice. But she implied in the text message that she was keeping things in reserve.
"Saving it for tomorrow,'' she said.
Cohen announced last May her intention to make a competitive comeback, but there were doubts she would make it to nationals after withdrawing from two Grand Prix competitions last fall with a calf injury.
Her coach, John A.W. Nicks, said he had "great concern'' about Cohen's ability to get this far when he saw her skate in the latter part of September. Nicks said it became apparent from the intensity of her practices in the past five or six weeks that Cohen had put the doubts to rest.
Cohen agreed, saying in Wednesday's text message it was "only in December'' she was sure of being able to skate as well as she did in the practice.
It remains to be seen whether practice will translate into a performance -- or two -- to give her a shot at one of the two Olympic team places.
The short program won't give complete evidence of that. Cohen has a history of being unable to do two error-free programs in the same competition. The question is whether she can finally do it for the first time in her career.
"It is a substantial challenge,'' Nicks said. "I have always felt she has the ability to do it. Perhaps the words are sooner or later, and we hope it's sooner.''
Cohen failed to hold a lead after the short program in the 2006 OIympics, two world championships (2006 and 2004) and two national championships. Falls frequently have undone her in the four-minute free skate.
Nicks boiled what Cohen must do to make the Olympic team to four words:
"Stay on her feet.''
-- Philip Hersh
Photos: Top: Sasha Cohen tumbles on a triple-flip jump in Wednesday practice. Credit: Rick Bowmer / Associated Press. Above: Cohen performs a layback spin. Credit: GeMatthew Stockman / Getty Images