After a career of coming in second, Sasha Cohen hopes that this is the year that she’s first. Though the 21-year-old is known for her stunning artistry and athleticism, she has skated in Michelle Kwan’s shadow. But after a groin injury forced Kwan to withdraw from the National Championships in January, Cohen finally won gold. She now thinks she’s ready to win what she’s been after for a long time — an Olympic gold medal. Before leaving to join her teammates in Torino, Cohen sat down for an interview with NBC’s Jamie Gangel.
Jamie Gangel: How important is winning the gold medal?
Sasha Cohen: It's very important. Gold is just different than anything else. There's so much attention that comes with that. I like the attention. And, you know, being No. 1 would be amazing.
No question, Cohen has what it takes. Skating since the age of 7, her jumps are daring, her footwork is dazzling, and her signature spirals are the envy of her competitors. But too often in her career, Cohen has ended up falling short. In the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, she came in a disappointing fourth. And in critical competitions, she has skated in the shadow of Michelle Kwan.
Gangel: It's no secret that, over the years, you've had a lot of heartbreakers. Do you know why?
Cohen: You know, I've looked back, and I've analyzed and wondered why I haven't been No. 1 or skated that perfect performance when I wanted to. And I think a lot of it comes back to training. And I don't feel like I've been prepared as well as I could, or should, be. And, you know, part of it was experience and knowing how to handle yourself at a competition and how to handle the nerves. You learn over time about yourself.
In January, with Michelle Kwan injured, Sasha Cohen finally won the Nationals. And now with Kwan out of Olympic competition, Cohen is the U.S. favorite.
Cohen: I definitely want gold. I want perfection. And I've been searching for it. Everyone has a different trajectory. It comes sooner for some than others. But you know, I'm plugging away, and I've been learning.
Part of that learning is finding the right coach. Cohen tried a series of different trainers but eventually returned home to longtime coach John Nicks.
John Nicks: Second time around is a little different. I think Sasha, two years older, is a little more mature. I'm also two years older — and not more mature. [Laughing] I think she's smarter. I think she's more ambitious. But, on the other hand, she always was very ambitious.
With that ambition, the two have revamped her training and program.
Cohen: I think, in the past, when I've trained and competed, I didn't want to make a mistake. And I wanted to be perfect. And I've learned that in practice, it's okay to mess up. It's okay to fall. That's how you're gonna get better.
Gangel: You think this is your time?
Cohen: I think so.
Gangel: What's your goal for this Olympics?
Cohen: My goal is to go in and to just really skate — just to give the performance of my life. And to really love it. And I think that's the only way you have a real shot of being the best.
And when Sasha Cohen skates her best, there is no one like her.