|Photo by Dave Amorde|
"Joey likes Rachel!"
In Aliso Viejo's Ice Chalet snack bar, six typical teens squeal about "Friends" and lace their skates. Among them, an eye-catching brunette balances against a table and lifts her left foot to meet her back. The banner above the skate-rental booth, constructed with orange paper and Scotch tape, reads: "Congratulations! Sasha Cohen 2002 Silver Medalist, you're go'in to the Olympics!"
The flexible brunette? Not just a typical teenager.
Sasha Cohen, 17, will be one of three women figure skaters to represent the United States in the 2002 Winter Olympics. The sassy Aliso Niguel High School senior overcame a debilitating injury and will travel to Salt Lake City in February to fulfill her Olympic dream.
"I'm looking forward to everything: opening and closing ceremonies, staying in the village, hopefully skating my best and winning the medal," Cohen says, glossing her lips with a pink wand.
Fan mail covers the snack counter, and a pint-size girl asks Cohen to autograph her skate. The Orange County Jewish teen seems unfazed by her new celebrity status.
"It's exciting and fun, but it's not reality. I'm enjoying it now, but when it's not here, that's OK, too," Cohen says, fidgeting with the zipper on her rhinestoned black hood. In fact, Cohen seems more excited about her upcoming Winter Formal and her kitten, Mia, than the media attention.
The 5-foot-1, 94-pound bundle of energy and radiance wasn't bat mitzvahed, but always wears a gold medallion around her neck. "The front is an astrological map for my birthday, and the back is my lucky star," Cohen told The Journal. The star is a Star of David. Her parents, Roger, an international business consultant and lawyer, and Gelina, attend Shir Ha-Ma'alot, a Reform congregation, and her 13-year-old sister, Natasha, attends Tarbut V'Torah Community Day School in Irvine.
"I had to keep in mind what my goals were and the steps to get there. I took every day one at a time and looked to where my dreams were," Cohen recalls, her Snow White complexion blushing.
She underwent extensive physical therapy and changed her training regimen and diet. "I wanted to make sure that when I was back on the ice, I was fit and ready," Cohen says.
Randy Bauer, a Laguna Hills physical therapist who helped the teen regain strength and flexibility, admires Cohen's tenacity. "Sasha's greatest asset, especially for such a young athlete, is her ability to maintain focus," Bauer says. "After being away from her sport for so long, she came back to compete at such a high level."
Her perseverance paid off. In recent months, she has rocked the skating scene. To reestablish her place among her competitors and rebuild her reputation with the judges, Cohen skated a heavy fall schedule. She finished fifth at Skate America, fourth at September's Goodwill Games, third at November's Trophee Lalique in Paris and first in the Finlandia Trophy - all stops on Cohen's road to the 2002 U.S. National Championships.
But it was this month's Nationals that was the key: held at the Staples Center, the top three women would earn Olympic spots.
In second place after her elegant short program, Cohen secured the silver medal, and her Olympic berth, with her mesmerizing long program. Dressed in black, her hair pulled back with a red rose, Cohen electrified the rink with her interpretation of "Carmen." Though she turned a triple-triple combination into a triple-double, she landed six triple jumps overall. Her skating, which was energetic, fresh and brimmed with attitude, earned her technical marks ranging from 5.6-5.8, and presentation marks ranging from 5.7-5.9.