HOW WOULD THE SOAP OPERA END?
|Photo © Alex Wilf
Last morning, all ladies medal contenders finally showed up to the practice for the first time. Two skaters attracted the most attention – Sasha Cohen and Irina Slutskaya. RSSF President Valentin Piseev was sincere talking about how the last two skating events might go, «Everyone knows very wall that American television bring the most figure skating money to ISU. It is only interested in buying the rights if its own skaters win. It’s naive to think that we’ll be allowed to win all the events. Russian skaters aren’t being forgive for any mistakes. It’ll be very hard for the dancers and Irina Slutskaya».
After Michelle Kwan left the Olymipcs, American expectations shifted to Sasha Cohen. The skater came to Italy pretty early, before the official opening, but she went to Curmaiore, little town on the French border, right away. She trained far away from everyone, returning just in time for event. Yesterday’s practice at Palavela was her first. Everyone noticed Cohen’s program was changed, with jump landings becoming more difficult.
The American’s practice wasn’t long. Evgeni Plushenko behaved similarly – he would go on ice, do the minimum, and be the first one to leave the rink. Even the short time was enough to see that Cohen is in great shape, and she knows it well.
Tatiana Tarasova said, «Sasha’s strength is the short program. Jumps is not her strong point, but she does required elements wonderfully. She loves skating the short program and she knows how to present it the best. She can focus. I think Slutskaya’s fight is with her.
There are enough good skaters here, but speaking of Kostner, I don’t remember one competition where she skated two clean programs. Shizuka Arakawa went back to the old free program – the same one that she won the Worlds with. While we worked together, I was against Shizuka changing the free program. That’s why we went different ways. It wasn’t possible for me to continue working when the skater is so persistent in trying to dictate me her own conditions. When we said good-bye, I advised her this option – don’t choreograph the new program, come back to the one that she feels most comfortable and confident with. She is also in good shape, but I don’t think she’ll be allowed to compete for the gold. Most likely, they’ll try to put Arakawa between Cohen and Slutskaya, if she gives them a reason, so Irina could be as far away from the gold as possible after the short program».
I asked, «What do you think of Emily Hughes?»
Tarasova gave me such a surprised look like she couldn’t understand how come Hughes’ name is mentioned in the Olympic content.
American reporters didn’t share the great coach’s opinion, and it is understandable. It could’ve been a fantastic story – one Hughes sister dramatically defeats Slutskaya in Salt Lake City, and another one can do the same in Torino after miraculously making the team at the last moment. It such a soap opera!
The funny thing is that as unbelievable as it sounds, the talks about younger Hughes had some ground. A year ago, the American came to her first Jr. Worlds. She was twice as big as she is now, but she had the technique – fully rotated jumps, wonderful soft landings, and importantly, she was very enthusiastic. She won the bronze.
Emily Hughes came to Torino noticeably thinner, but it’s still hard to say the skater is tiny. She skated calmly and freely at practices, and she seemingly wasn’t bothered by the hype around her.
After the alternate came to Torino, the said at the press-conference, «I’m Emily, not Sarah. That’s why you shouldn’t try to put the equal sign between us. We are completely different. I’m proud of my sister’s success in Salt Lake City, but I prefer not to be compared to her. I think differently, behave differently, and I try not to imitate her on ice».
Elena Vodorezova, famous skater of the past and a personal coach of Georgian Elene Gedevanishvili, said this about Hughes, «Emily is pretty large skater, but amazingly, her weight doesn’t interfere with her jumping. She doesn’t look that special, but if you look closely, she does all the elements and she skates with such power, you have to notice it. All fun aside, who knows what she could do in the final».
Irina Slutskaya’s practice was the usual as the skater looked calmed and focused. She didn’t allow any extra emotion. At the same time, everyone noticed she didn’t do the perfect short program. Unlike Kostner, she didn’t try triple-triple, going for the triple-double. She missed the flip, and later, after her music was ever, she did the jump again. It was fine this time. The unsuccessful attempt was another reminder of the huge pressure of the Games. If anything happens at the competition, the judges won’t forgive the smallest miss even though nobody deserves the gold as much as the Russian skater.
Can someone else get into the fight for gold? In theory, yes, at least on the short program level. If Slutskaya or Cohen won’t be able to withstand the pressure of expectations, anything can happen. These skaters could possibly be ahead – Kostner, anyone of the three Japanese – Arakawa, Onda, or Ando, Elena Liashenko, Elena Sokolova. Or Hughes, as funny as it might look now.