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Can Sasha skate to gold? (cont.)

Posted: Wednesday February 22, 2006 10:20AM; Updated: Thursday February 23, 2006 2:10PM
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It's a cause for concern heading into the finals, because, of course, the same panel of judges will be awarding the scores. Given Slutskaya's superior jumping ability, if Cohen doesn't smoke her in the more subtle skills of performance and execution, choreography, composition and interpretation -- all of which were spot-on during the short program -- then the advantage in Thursday night's free skating program goes to Slutskaya.

Breakdown

Here's what the tea leaves from the short program are saying: Cohen's program component scores (skating skills, transitions, choreography, etc.) were about one point higher than Slutskaya's in the short, and 1.4 points higher than Arakawa's. That advantage was essentially negated by the spins, however, in which Slutskaya was scored nearly a point higher than Cohen, who has a weak flying camel spin, and a half-point higher than Arakawa.

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Cohen has nearly a two-point advantage over Slutskaya in the spiral step sequence and the straight line step sequence, where she also beat Arakawa by .85 of a point in the short. But the jumps reverse that differential. Slutskaya scored a whopping 17.95 points on her three short-program jumps, compared with 16.96 for Arakawa and just 16.05 for Cohen. And they all did exactly the same jumps.

What's it all mean? In the short program, all these various strengths and weaknesses tend to even out, which is why the scores between these three are so close. But in the long program, Slutskaya is planning seven triple jumps, several in combination, plus a double axel, rather than the two triples and the double axel she did in the short. Every time she lands one cleanly -- the height of Slutskaya's jumps is dramatic -- she'll be adding points that Cohen can't match.

Arakawa, too, is a superior jumper to Cohen, and is planning a triple lutz, triple loop, double loop combination (base value:12.5 points) as the highlight of her seven-triple package. To win, Cohen will need to skate cleanly, but she'll also need the other two to flub one or two of the more impressive jumps in their arsenal.

It could happen. It happened for Hughes in 2002, when Slutskaya had the gold on a platter until she messed up several jumps in her free skate and was forced to settle for silver. She's not immune to nerves. Arakawa, too, admitted to feeling quite nervous on Tuesday night, which is why she scuttled a planned triple lutz, triple loop combination that, in practice, she had been landing with a yawn.

Slutskaya skates last on Thursday. If Cohen, who skates second in the final group, just ahead of Arakawa, puts together a performance as strong as hers was in the short, the Russian woman will know she has to be nearly perfect to become the first woman from her country to capture figure skating gold. That's a tall order under the Olympic spotlight. It'll be worth staying awake to watch.


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