Cohen misses golden opportunity, finds silver lining

TORINO, Italy -- The Wheaties box went out the window within 20 seconds when she fell on her butt during an attempted triple-double-double combination.

Mickey Mouse withdrew the seat next to him in the Disneyland parade 10 seconds later after she stumbled and nearly fell again on a triple-double.

But just when the folks from "Brokeback Mountain on Ice" were probably checking their Rolodex for Nicole Bobek's number, Sasha Cohen reached down deep and salvaged not only the rest of her performance but also an Olympic medal. Thanks to her strong performance in Tuesday's short program and lackluster routines from almost everybody but gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa of Japan, Cohen took home the silver in the women's figure skating final Thursday.

The hosting job for "Saturday Night Live" might be out but a chair on "Celebrity Poker Showdown" is hers for the asking.

The women's figure skating final is normally the highlight of the Winter Games, but Thursday was the sort of night you really regretted Michelle Kwan pulling out with her groin injury. Heck, when Cohen and bronze medalist Irina Slutskaya were wiping the ice more than the Zamboni machine, you almost regretted not having Tonya Harding and Shane Stant in the building.

Thank goodness for Arakawa, who gave the spectators a dazzling performance to earn Japan's first medal here. But even she failed to land a triple-triple combination, turning both into triple-doubles.

Had any skaters besides Arakawa come through in the clutch, though, Cohen would be leaving the Olympics without a medal for the second time in a row. She was so convinced her performance knocked her out of medal consideration that she went back to the dressing area and changed out of her costume. She probably would have sat in for a couple hands of cards if only Rickey Henderson was there.

"I thought she had a chance," said her coach, 76-year-old John Nicks. "I've been around long enough to see a lot of mistakes and things happen."

He saw more Thursday. After Arakawa brought the house to its feet, Fumie Suguri, Kimmie Meissner and Slutskaya put them right back in their seats with routines that were worse than Cohen's.

"I was surprised I was going to get a bronze," Cohen said, "and even more surprised when I learned I was getting a silver medal. And it was just kind of like, 'Oh, that's nice.'"

Which is probably not a slogan you'll see the USOC trademarking any time soon.

Cohen held an ever so slim lead over Slutskaya and Arakawa after the short program but her body is also aching.

"I don't even know what the correct names for all the muscles are but basically they're important ones that you need," Cohen said, adding that she was on "a nice combination" of ultrasound, Tylenol and other painkillers.

She fell on a couple jumps during her warmup and when she took the ice for her routine, Cohen looked as if the price of sequins and rhinestones had just gone through the roof.

"I think I probably was not nervous but just a little apprehensive knowing I missed Lutz and flips in warmups," she said. "You know, when you go out there and you've got a lot of people watching and you know what you want to do and you know that your practice didn't go exactly right, it's hard to look like you're getting churros at Disneyland."

Cohen felt even worse after the early stumbles -- she saved herself a deduction on the second spill by catching herself with two hands before her rear hit the ice -- but recovered and skated well the rest of the way. She might not be happy with the silver but she can be proud of the way she hung in there.

"I was able to believe when everything was dark and gray," said Cohen, who has evidently been hanging around Johnny Weir too long. "Then I had a little break and the music carried me through. I love the music and it's always so special to me no matter what happens. It goes beyond an athletic event and becomes an emotional experience."

Nicks said that when Cohen realized she won the silver she turned to him and said, "I was lucky." Yes, Nicks replied, you were.

The silver was the third in the row for Cohen, who also finished second at the 2005 and 2004 world championships. She was philosophical about that, stressing repeatedly that her focus is all on the process and not the medal.

"Ultimately," she said of her routine, "it's four minutes of one day in my life."

Which is wise and true. Then again, the long program was only four minutes of one day in Peggy Fleming's life, too, yet she made sure we would still remember what she did nearly 40 years later. We probably won't remember Cohen quite that long.

Unless, of course, she winds up winning "Dancing with the Stars" in a decade or two.