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Cohen's Victory Validates Switch to a New Coach

The Skate Canada champion says leaving John Nicks was hard, but she knew it was part of stepping up her skills.

November 04, 2002|Helene Elliott | Times Staff Writer

QUEBEC CITY, Canada — After yet another promising start dissolved into a dissatisfying result, Sasha Cohen knew she had reached a crossroads.

The teenager from Laguna Niguel thought she was well prepared for this year's world championships, only to stumble on several elements she had nailed in practice. Her fourth-place finish was a wake-up call.

"I'm at a point where I want to be the best skater, and I just didn't feel like the training conditions were what I needed," said Cohen, who skated weekdays at Aliso Viejo with Coach John Nicks and weekends at Lake Arrowhead. "I was on the ice for two 45-minute sessions with 15 or 20 kids. It was more of a social environment."

A visit to Connecticut for choreography work with Nikolai Morozov and Tatiana Tarasova persuaded Cohen the Russian duo could lift her out of her rut. After much thought, her parents agreed to uproot the family so she could train with Tarasova, whose impressive roster includes Salt Lake City gold medalist Alexei Yagudin.

The benefits were apparent at Skate Canada, Cohen's first Grand Prix victory. Although the field was relatively thin, her enhanced speed and agility complimented her artistry and offered promise of even better performances to come.

"Every day I'm more and more sure this was the right thing," Cohen said Sunday. "It's all about the training there. I have as much ice time as I want. I have three hours of ice a day and with only one other kid and two coaches. It's real intense the whole time and I'm completely focused....

"It was really hard to leave Mr. Nicks. He was my coach since intermediates. As a person, it was hard to imagine anyone else putting me on the ice, but I realized for my skating to progress, I really needed a higher lever of training."

Her mother, Galina, said the family regards the move as an adventure and someday will return to California. They're renting their Laguna Niguel home and living in a rented home in Avon, Conn., where Sasha's sister, Natasha, a high school freshman, studies piano. The girls' father, Roger, an attorney, commutes between coasts.

"This isn't about winning Olympic gold. It's more about improving as a skater," Galina said. "She has a chance to fulfill her potential. Whether that's Olympic gold or not, who knows? That's four years away. I can't think that far. She can be much better as a skater, and she feels she's training and improving. Every day she comes home and says she's progressing, and that's a great thing."

Tarasova said her coaching team is merely polishing the gem Nicks shaped.

"She have a very professional coach before, the best coach in the U.S.," Tarasova said. "I know this coach all my life. We compete together. I had [Irina] Rodnina and [Alexander] Zaitsev, he had [Tai] Babilonia and [Randy] Gardner.

"He open this talent, because Sasha is real 100% talent. Talent like this is coming maybe one in 10 years. The last one like this was [1994 Olympic champion] Oksana Baiul. I try to help her open her talent more. Maybe I do something special for this unbelievable talent."

With two more Grand Prix assignments -- Lalique Trophy Nov. 14-17 in Paris and Cup of Russia Nov. 21-24 in Moscow -- Cohen is focusing on consistency and avoiding the stumbles she made in her Skate Canada long program, which she blamed on inadequate conditioning.

"Right now I'm thinking of Lalique and Russia and of getting national and world titles," said Cohen, who plans to resume her quest to land a quadruple salchow later this year. "Those are my goals for this season.

"I still have a lot to accomplish and a lot to prove, so I don't feel like I'm just waiting for the 2006 Olympics. I've got lots of stuff to do."

*

Elena Grushina and Ruslan Goncharov of Ukraine, also coached by Tarasova, won all three phases of the ice dance competition to win the title. Melissa Gregory and Denis Petukhov of the U.S. were eighth.

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