Posted: Thursday February 23, 2006 8:50PM; Updated: Saturday February 25, 2006 10:15PM
Cohen's problems started as soon as she took the ice to warm up. She missed her first two practice jumps, the flip and the lutz, and panic began to set in. "I was not nervous, but I was a little apprehensive, knowing I missed the lutz and flip," she said.
"When things are not going well in warmup, it's hard to feel you're getting churros at Disneyland." She completed other jumps well but then "slammed" a triple loop in warmup and spent the remaining minutes "trying to get the feeling back."
When Cohen has been asked about failed programs in the past, she has talked less about learning from them and more about forgetting them. Cohen has often put herself in position to win, but before she captured her first national title in St. Louis last month, she had finished second, third or fourth 10 times at nationals, worlds or Olympics, and she admitted on Thursday that her medals were "at home in shoeboxes in random places."
One way to deal with disappointment is not to relive it and stare it down, the way Arakawa did. Even after a successful short program, which gave her the lead heading into Thursday, Cohen opted to skip a Wednesday practice session. "I was very, very tired from the short program," she said, "and I wasn't going to learn anything new."
Slutskaya's program was a mystery. She turned combinations into solo jumps, tried to compensate by adding combinations later in the program and swapped a lutz for a flip. Tom Brady may look like a genius when he calls an audible, but in an Olympic figure skating final, this looked more like a maestro doing improv theater. It was a surprising meltdown from a woman who won gold medals at two world championships and seven European Championships with a joy and flair that might have distinguished her as the finest skater of her generation, were it not for Michelle Kwan.
"I was missing jumps I usually do easily in exhibitions," she said afterward. "I guess that's competition."
It's worth remembering what Kwan went through in Nagano and Salt Lake City, where she was twice favored to win and where two teammates whom she had defeated at U.S. Nationals -- people who had less to lose and less pressure to worry about -- skated without fear and finished first. For those nights, Tara Lipinski and Sarah Hughes dealt better with the crucible that the ladies' free skate, the centerpiece of the Games, has become and skated away with gold medals.
Either could appreciate what Arakawa said Thursday, when a Japanese reporter asked her if she was concerned about the strong programs of Cohen and Slutskaya.
"No," she said. "My competition is myself, my nerves. And tonight I won."