After nearly quitting in '05, Arakawa takes home gold
Posted: Thursday February 23, 2006 8:50PM; Updated: Saturday February 25, 2006 10:15PM
Shizuka Arakawa landed five triples on Thursday and was the only one of the medal challengers not to fall.
TURIN, Italy -- In the end, the ladies' figure skating final had less to do with verve than with nerve. Japan's Shizuka Arakawa handled the pressure best, which is why her medal is the shiniest, while Sasha Cohen of the U.S. and Russia's Irina Slutskaya melted under the spotlight in different ways.
The medal colors, really, came down to the difference between being a superb performer, which Cohen and Slutskaya have always been, and a great competitor, which Arakawa was on Thursday night.
The 2004 world champ from Japan gave her country its first medal at these Games, and at 24, she proved that with age comes maturity. Perhaps Arakawa already overcame her potential crisis long before she took the ice in Turin. She nearly quit after a ninth-place finish at the 2005 worlds and said at the time that the decision to take the hard road of redemption rather than resignation would be harder than anything she faced on the ice.
"You see yourself go in a bad direction," she said last week, "and people assume your time is finished. Convincing yourself, believing yourself enough is more difficult than landing a jump."
Arakawa landed five triples on Thursday and was the only one of the medal challengers not to fall -- perhaps because she wasn't afraid to do so. "I wasn't expecting to be the first medalist," she said, "and so I didn't feel so much pressure."
Contrast that with Cohen, who has a history of teasing people with great short programs followed by disastrous long programs.
In Turin, Cohen bombed on her first two jumps, essentially taking herself out of contention for gold just 30 seconds into her program. This is nothing new for her. At her best she has an assortment of fine jumps, but more important, her elegance is second-to-none and her spinal column is so flexible that WADA should test her back for silly putty. Scott Hamilton, the 1984 gold medalist, once joked that she leaves anyone who sees her with "stretch envy," and that gives her an advantage in elements such as spirals and layback spins, which provides an immediate margin for error with her jumps. But not too much error.
"I'm disappointed," she said after the performance. "I'm in a little bit of shock."