Irina Slutskaya's bid to become the first Russian to win the
women's figure skating title at the Winter Olympics hung in the
balance after she was left trailing in second place by Sasha Cohen
The American performed a dazzling short program to score 66.73,
just 0.03 more than the Russian favorite going into Thursday's free
Japan's Shizuka Arakawa was lying third.
Slutskaya is unlikely to get too flustered as the lead held by
Cohen is negligible under the new cumulative-points scoring
"I am happy. I skated well. This is a competition and sometimes
things don't go as you'd like them to," said Slutskaya, the silver
medallist from four years ago.
"Everybody thinks about (me making history) but not me."
If Slutskaya wins on Thursday, Russia will become the first
nation to sweep all four figure skating titles at the Games.
Cohen, second behind Slutskaya at last year's world
championships, looked nervous as she skated on the ice to perform
the last short program of a long evening. She hardly acknowledged
the crowd, thick with U.S. flags.
Once she had landed her first two jumps performed to a medley of
Russian folk music, she started smiling, when she landed the next
one, her shoulders relaxed and she swung through the rest of her
routine with ease.
When she finished, she punched the air and cried, "Right on!"
before skating around the rink to receive deafening applause.
As she saw her marks flash on the scoreboard, it gradually
dawned on her that she had scored high enough to challenge the top
When she was announced as being in first place, she leapt in the
air with one arm raised, a huge smile across her face.
But she refused to get carried away by her achievement.
"The free program is going to be like starting over, like
tonight didn't really count. It's back to square one," said Cohen,
who finished fourth in the Salt Lake City Games.
"We are separated by so little that anyone could win."
Sporting a sparkling catsuit, Slutskaya was the 18th out of 29
skaters to perform and her dramatic routine to Liszt's Totentanz
remained the benchmark for most of the evening until Cohen squeezed
The Russian executed a series of soaring jumps and artistic
spins to draw loud cheers from the crowd and will fancy her chances
of overhauling Cohen on Thursday as she will be the last competitor
to take to the ice.
The top three were separated by only 0.71 of a point after
Arakawa led a strong showing by the Japanese contingent.
Her compatriot Fumie Suguri finished fourth while Miki Ando, who
will attempt to become the first women to land a quadruple Salchow
at the Olympics in the free skate, was eighth.
Italy's chances of winning a medal at the Palavela rink all but
vanished when world and European bronze medallist Carolina Kostner
mistimed her opening triple-triple jump combination and crashed to
the ice on her bottom. She finished 11th.
European silver medallist Elena Sokolova also put herself out of
contention for a medal with an error-filled display.
A stunned Sokolova struggled to hold back the tears when she was
left in 18th place.
(Reuters via China Daily February 22, 2006)