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Skating for Gold
By Tiffany Chaparro

Gold medal winner Shizuka Arakawa (C) of Japan, silver medal winner Sasha Cohen (L) and bronze medal winner Irina Slutskaya of Russia
Gold medal winner Shizuka Arakawa (C) of Japan, silver medal winner Sasha Cohen (L) and bronze medal winner Irina Slutskaya of Russia on the podium after the women's free program at the 2006 Winter Olympic Games on February 23, 2006.

  • Rena Inoui and John Baldwin sat down with our kid reporters. Read what they had to say.

  • Check out what Sasha Cohen told our kid reporters about her Olympic hopes.

  • Keep up with the news in men's figure skating and pairs figure skating.

  • Learn more about skating.

    (Photo: Lee Jae-Won/Reuters)
  • Thursday, February 23—Japan's Shizuka Arakawa glided away with Olympic gold Thursday night, after falls and letdowns by the night's top competitors shattered their Olympic hopes. American Sasha Cohen was unable to handle her nerves and fell on her first jump, but still grabbed silver. Russia's Irina Slutskaya's shaky jumps dragged the skater down to third place. Arakawa earned 191.34 points, Cohen 183.36, and Slutskaya 181.44.

    "I still can't believe this," said Arakawa, whose gold in women's figure skating Thursday night gave Japan their first medal for the Olympics. Arakawa, who was in third place after the short program, is also the first Japanese woman to win Olympic gold. Amazingly, Arakawa almost retired in 2004.

    "Right now I'm just so surprised about all of this, that I'm speechless," she said. "I never expected that I would be the first one to win a medal for Japan, so I didn't feel that pressure. But I'm very happy that I am the one who won it."

    Arakawa skated an elegant and clean program to Puccini's "Violin Fantasy of Turandot," but it was also a very safe program that stayed away from hard combinations. But with falls and mistakes by Cohen and Slutskaya, who were in first and second place after the short program, Arakawa was able to take the lead.

    "There was no unbelievable performance," said Sarah Hughes, who was watching her sister Emily perform. "No one skated the performance of their life. It was a more subdued final. But every Olympics can't have that one amazing night."

    Cohen, the 21-year-old American hopeful, was hesitant from the beginning. After a bad warm up where she fell on several of her jumps, she took the ice slowly. She fell on her first jump and stumbled on her second. But her artistry shone through, with beautiful footwork and elegant spins allowing her to take silver. Still, Cohen thought she had eliminated herself from winning any medals.

    "I was kind of in shock," she said. "It was difficult. I was in a good place and I didn't feel nervous, but physically I just couldn't execute when I needed to."

    Slutskaya was disappointed in her performance and cried afterward. At 27, this was most likely her last Olympic chance to win the gold. A win by Slutskaya would also have made Olympic history for the Russians. They would have been four for four in figure skating events. Russia has already won gold in pairs, dance, and men's figure skating this year. No country has swept all four events.

    "Of course I am disappointed," Slutskaya said. "That jump, it is exhibition. It is no problem for me. But it is competition. It is life."

    Sadly, Cohen and Slutskaya have stumbled before under pressure. Both skaters remember the 2002 Olympics where they watched Sarah Hughes, sister of skater Emily Hughes, take the gold after each of them slipped during her performance.

    Emily Hughes, who had a chance to win a medal, also succumbed to pressure and stayed at seventh place. The young sixteen-year-old, Kimmie Meissner dropped from fifth to sixth place.

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    U.S. figure skater Sasha Cohen kneels on the ice after her perfomance
    U.S. figure skater Sasha Cohen kneels on the ice after her perfomance in the short program during the figure skating competition at the 2006 Winter Olympics on February 21, 2006.
    (Photo: Yuri Kadobnov/AFP/Getty Images/NewsCom)
    U.S. Takes the Lead
    Sasha Cohen only .03 points ahead of Russian Irina Slutskaya before Thursday's big showdown
    By Hunter Gallogly
    Scholastic Kids Press Corps

    Tuesday, February 21—The competition was tight at the Olympic women's figure skating competition today after skaters performed their short programs, the first of two judged events.

    The evening began with 29 athletes battling for the top positions in the Palavela ice rink in southeastern Torino, Italy. Seventeen of the performances were televised, and they were amazing to watch. I was especially anxious to see how two of the competitors performed. The first was the American, Sasha Cohen, who is the favored of three strong American skaters. The second skater I was waiting for was Irina Slutskaya, a Russian skater who is the all-around favorite for the gold medal.

    In women's figure skating, each athlete performs in two different events. The first is the short program, which lasts a maximum of 2 minutes and 50 seconds. In the short program, the skater must include eight required elements. The most important element is the jump combination. During the jump combination, an athlete can either perform two triple jumps or one triple jump with one double jump.

    The second event is the free skate, which gives skaters a chance to showcase their individual style and highlight technical and artistic strengths. This routine lasts about four minutes.

    More big news in the world of figure skating is a new scoring system implemented this year. Instead of the old six point system, these Olympians are being scored on each element of their program by level of difficulty and quality of moves. Judges' scores are also anonymous—spectators can no longer tell which judge from which country gave which score.

    Follow the Action

    The evening's competition started out with Tugba Karademir from Turkey. Next was the American skater Kimmie Meissner, skating to "Symphonic Dance."

    At 16 years old, she is the youngest athlete in the competition. Her personality on ice was vibrant! Meissner performed a triple lutz and a triple toe, which is one of the most difficult jump combinations. Her score for the routine was 59.40.

    Several wonderful and powerful performers followed from Finland, Canada, Russia, and Japan. The Japanese competitors are under a lot of stress, as Japan has yet to win a medal in these Olympic Games.

    American Emily Hughes, who did not even know she was competing until February 12, wowed the crowds with a beautiful combination spin which earned her a score of 57.08.

    Then the gold medal-favorite entered the arena. Irina Slutskaya from Russia, wearing a bodysuit with long pants, the first time pants have been allowed for female skaters at the Olympics. Commentators discussed how ill she is and how many times she has been in the hospital recently, but she looked well and strong. She skated to "Totentanz," which has a wildness about it that she was able to match with explosive jumps and a lot of speed. Her score for the performance was 66.70. With that, Slutskaya took over first place, with only six more routines to go in the short program.

    The final skater appeared: U.S. favorite Sasha Cohen. Cohen chose "Dark Eyes," a Russian folk song, to accompany her short program. From the first camera shot of her face, even before the music began, you could see her determination to do well—she had fire in her eyes. Cohen's jumps were beautiful and powerful. Her back stayed perfectly straight and her spiral sequence was perfection. Her toe-tapping music had the audience clapping their hands to the tempo. The routine was not only fun but also technically difficult. Cohen came away from the competition in first place with a score of 66.73.

    Going into Thursday's free-skate competition, Cohen is in first place, Slutskaya in second, and Japan's Shizuka Arakawa in third. Meissner claimed fifth place, while Hughes holds on to seventh place. Tune in Thursday, when these amazing athletes battle for the gold!

    Photos, left to right: © Rick Rickman/NewSport/NewSport/Corbis; © Joe Cavaretta/AP Wide World.