American Alexandra Pauline Cohen, 21, better known to the figure skating world as Sasha Cohen, is hoping to make her mark at the Turin Winter Olympics in February. She won silver medals at the World Championships in 2004 and 2005, and also took her fourth medal at the 2005 U.S. National Championships. Her foremost goal is to improve on her fourth place finish at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.
Alexandra Cohen grew up in California, but got her nickname from her Odessa-born mother, as Sasha is the Ukrainian diminutive of Alexandra. She started skating at the age of seven, after getting her start in athletics as a gymnast. But by the time she was 10 she was committed to figure skating full time.
Sasha progressed quickly, mastering all of her double jumps except for the double-axel by the age of 11.
Before long she was skating in regional competitions, placing fourth in the Southwest Pacific Regionals as a 12-year-old and taking second place at the event one year later.
She continued improving, winning the Pacific Coast Regional at age 15 in 1999. But there were disappointments too, including a back injury that kept her out of action most of the 2000-2001 season. Sasha needed extensive physical therapy to regain her flexibility, but is philosophical about the ups and downs.
"I think in every athlete's career there are the highs and the lows, and the lows are what make the highs great," she said. "You know, it is when you don't win you learn about yourself and learn the lessons that make you a better skater next time. Everything I have gone through has made me who I am today and I feel really prepared. I have trained really well this summer, practice makes perfect."
She made her Olympic debut as a 17-year-old at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City, where she finished out of medal contention in fourth place. But she continued to train hard in hopes of making it to the podium in Turin. In the summer of 2002, Sasha left her home in California to move to New York and train with skating coach Robin Wagner.
"I feel in the past four years I have really learned a lot. Matured as a skater and a person," she added. "I had a lot of great and not-so-great experiences and I am just taking all of that knowledge and experience with me into this."
That experience has turned her into one of the world's elite skaters. She won five major international titles in 2004, including Skate America, and entered the 2005 season ranked number-one by the International Skating Union.
But Sasha Cohen believes there is still room for her to improve.
"I am not necessarily skating the best I ever skated, but I am definitely the strongest. I feel like I have that potential, that building block. I have got room to grow and I have really worked my separate elements. It is a great satisfaction in feeling really prepared," she noted.
Sasha has moved back to California and is again working with her former coach, John Nicks. They are concentrating on tailoring her program to take advantage of the new judging system that will be in place for the Turin Olympics. The "code of points" replaces the old 6.0 scale, and Sasha says she likes the new system.
"I do. It works well for my skating, and I really like the fact it gives weight to spins, spirals, footwork, transitions, something that was merely checked off before and jumping was given all the weight," she explained. "So for me, I definitely am very appreciative that this new system has come to order."
So is 2006 the year Sasha Cohen takes the next big step and stands on the Olympic podium?
"I think when I am ready it is going to happen. I think everything has been kind of leading up to [it]," she said. "Experience and moving around and the new system evolving. I feel like my time and place is hopefully coming."
Sasha Cohen's next big step is performing well at next month's U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Saint Louis (January 7-15), after which the Turin Olympics team will officially be named January 15.