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US Aims to Stop Russian Figure Skating Sweep


Russia is aiming to become the first nation to sweep the gold medals in Figure Skating at the Winter Olympics. It will take another first to do it, as no Russian has ever won the women's title - and that's the only one of the four events remaining.

In recent Olympics, Russians have dominated the figure skating events in pairs, ice dancing and men's competitions. It's been no different in Turin where they have already captured the gold medals in those competitions.

But no Russian has ever won a women's gold medal. Reigning world champion Irina Slutskaya is hoping to change that. The seven-time European champion narrowly lost out on the gold medal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics when she was upset by American Sarah Hughes.

This time the 27-year-old Russian will try to overcome another American, 21-year-old Sasha Cohen.

Under figure skating's new scoring system, Cohen holds a narrow 0.03 of a point lead over Slutskaya (63.73 to 66.70) after both skated impressive short programs here Tuesday night.

Cohen finished fourth at the last Olympics and says that experience has helped her in Turin.

"I was a different person, a different athlete," said Sasha Cohen. "And I've learned so much and matured, and I think I've learned how to handle the nerves a bit better since then and just evolved."

Asked by reporters after her short program how much she wants to win the gold medal, Sasha Cohen had these remarks.

"You know I want it, but I definitely have not let it be my main focus here," she said. "I think about it every day, of course, a couple times a day, and I'm like, 'aw, that would be so nice to take one of those home.' But my main job here is to enjoy the process, have fun with every moment, to believe in myself and stay strong, and it's kind of what you have to follow to get there."

Russian Irina Slutskaya said she will prepare for Thursday night's long program that will decide the medals the way she always does. But she would not share that information.

"If I tell you everybody will know and everybody will do the same and everybody will skate great, " said Irina Slutskaya. "That's good on one side, but not in the Olympic Games. You know, I don't want to show [share] my secret in the Olympic Games."

Slutskaya and Sasha Cohen are not the only figure skaters who have a good shot at the women's gold medal. Shizuka Arakawa of Japan (with 66.02 points) is less than three-quarters of one point behind Cohen. And her countrywoman Fumie Suguri, who was fifth at the last Olympics, is within five points of the lead.

Spectators can only hope that the best performance will be ruled the best by the judges. They won't know which ones to blame if they don't like the result, because under the new scoring system for these Olympics, the nationalities of the judges are not revealed.