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OLYMPICS HELENE ELLIOTT

Cohen Gains Confidence Along With Strength

October 25, 2003|HELENE ELLIOTT

It was only one competition and an abbreviated one at that, in which skaters performed one program and were rated by five judges, not a panel of nine or more.

No matter. A win is a win, and figure skater Sasha Cohen of Laguna Niguel hopes to build on her triumph over seven-time U.S. champion Michelle Kwan a few weeks ago at the Campbell's Classic at New York.

"It was really awesome," said Cohen, who finished third behind Kwan and Sarah Hughes at this year's U.S. competition and second to Kwan in 2002 before finishing fourth at the Salt Lake City Olympics. "I had trained really well the week before and I was able to do lots of clean run-throughs. To put it together under pressure really meant a lot for my confidence."

Cohen, who will be 19 Sunday, is a classical skater with breathtaking grace. Her lack of consistency under duress has been her downfall. After attributing her woes to a lack of practice time at her Aliso Viejo rink, she left coach John Nicks a year ago and moved to Connecticut to work with Tatiana Tarasova. She won last season's Grand Prix final -- Kwan didn't compete -- but was fourth again at the world championships, where Kwan won her fifth title.

More time with Tarasova has given Cohen an optimistic outlook for this season, which begins in earnest this weekend at Skate America at Reading, Pa.

"My training went really well this summer. I did a lot of off-ice things and I feel a lot stronger now," said Cohen, who on Friday night took first place with her "Malaguena" short program from last season and will perform her new "Swan Lake" long program today. "I can go through whole long programs without getting tired. It's great to feel ready."

She wasn't sure what to expect from the new scoring system, which is being used in a Grand Prix event for the first time. Skaters are being judged on a wide range of criteria and earn points scaled to the difficulty and execution of each element, as well as for choreography. Many skaters fear the system favors safe moves over risky ones, but Cohen is open-minded.

"From what I've heard this system sounds fairer, but I guess I'll see how it works in competition," Cohen said before the event.

There was no reason for disappointment Friday, when Cohen ended up well ahead of the field with 66.46 points, followed by 59.02 from Shizuka Arakawa of Japan.

A Goal in Mind

Chanda Gunn of Huntington Beach was a cheerleader, soccer player and swimmer until her brother took up hockey and introduced her to a new universe.

"I just really liked it. I went to his practices and was like one of the fathers during the game, giving tips to everyone," she said.

She got hockey equipment for her 14th birthday and proved to be a natural goaltender. Now 23 and a senior at Northeastern, Gunn was recently named to the U.S. women's select team for the Four Nations tournament Nov. 5-9 in Sweden. She also made the U.S. national team, a distinction she also holds in roller hockey.

"I love hockey. Ice hockey is me," said Gunn, who was diagnosed with epilepsy when she was in the fourth grade and controls it with medication four times a day. "Making the national team is a dream when you're younger. It's a long process. You've got to pay your dues."

Gunn played on boys' teams at the midget-A level and later excelled for the California Selects. She began college at Wisconsin but was hospitalized when her epilepsy flared out of control and played only a few games. She lost her spot on the team but wasn't ready to give up, so she called other colleges to see if anyone needed a goalie.

"A lot of schools weren't willing to give me a shot because they think I'm a huge liability," she said. "Heather Lindstad, the coach at Northeastern at the time, gave me a chance."

Northeastern opened its season last weekend, and Gunn recorded the ninth shutout of her career in a 2-0 victory over Vermont. She's eager to play in the Four Nations tournament but said the 2006 Olympics are too far off to contemplate.

"I'm a really short-term person," said Gunn, a finalist last season for college hockey's Humanitarian Award, for her charity work, and the Patty Kazmaier Award as the top player. "I'm going to keep playing, and whatever happens, happens."

Here and There

* Grisha Fournier of Loma Linda qualified for the U.S. junior figure skating championships at the juvenile level, a remarkable feat because he took up the sport only two years ago. Fournier, 12, was born in Russia and abandoned at an orphanage until Mike and Gina Fournier adopted him 3 1/2 years ago. He trains at Center Ice in Ontario. "He works like a demon," said Joan Heasley, one of his coaches. "He skates with such joy. He doesn't always skate perfectly, but the judges feel his love for skating and they love him. His second [presentation] mark has been way beyond his technical mark."

* Fencer Soren Thompson of San Diego finished eighth in men's epee at the World Fencing Championships in Cuba, believed to be the best result for a U.S. male fencer in more than 40 years. "It's really exciting to do so well this year, which is a big year leading up to the Olympics," said Thompson, who has the top ranking in the North and South Americas zone. "We have to qualify the U.S. team.... Canada and Cuba are at our heels." Team qualifications should be evident by March.

* The women's World Cup ski season opens Sunday in Austria.... Beckie Scott of Canada got her silver medal from the women's 5K cross-country ski race 20 months after the Salt Lake City Games. Winner Larissa Lazutina had been disqualified because of a doping violation, moving Scott up from third to second, but the ceremony didn't take place until this week.

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