Cohen’s comeback stalls
On Monday morning, Sasha Cohen announced her withdrawal from this week’s Skate America. Cohen has been battling tendinitis in her right calf and was absent at her first event of the season, Trophee Bompard. Over the past few weeks, Cohen’s reportedly been rehabilitating her injury and recently announced her decision to train with former coach John Nicks in Aliso Viejo, California.
Cohen’s withdrawal from Skate America was predicted by nearly everyone in the skating world. Cohen’s critics have chosen to believe that this injury is acting as a convenient excuse for a skater who isn’t prepared to face international competition and never planned on competing in her fall events. Cohen’s fans, on the other hand, see this injury as a side effect of her extensive training for this important Olympic season. Unfortunately, after two withdrawals it’s realistic to think that even the most loyal Sasha fans have to see this week’s announcement as something that doesn’t portend well for Cohen’s chances at Nationals.
Assuming the critics are wrong and Cohen’s injury is justifiable, one can’t assume that after dealing with such a serious injury, Cohen is going to have a great showing in January. An injury like tendinitis needs time to heal, and the best medicine for such a strain is to take a substantial amount of time away from the ice. It doesn’t appear that Cohen‘s done this (and if she has, she shouldn‘t have waited until today to announce her withdrawal), and with the season in full swing, Cohen doesn’t have time to significantly pause her on-ice training.
Tendinitis, of all things, doesn’t guarantee Cohen will be 100% by the time Nationals rolls around. Tendinitis isn’t like a clean fracture. With an injury like tendinitis, pain is persistent and doesn’t come with a set timeline for recovery. Cohen’s not going to be a serious threat to medal if her calf is hurting every time she takes off and lands a jump. A sore calf will cause a skater to tweak their technique in order to avoid pain. When taking off for a triple lutz or flip, a ton of pressure is put on a skater’s calf when they pick in. If they are in any way wary of putting pressure on that part of their leg, they may avoid picking in with the force needed to get the height and rotation on the jump. In recent Grand Prixs, we’ve seen even the slightest underrotations have really hurt a skater’s score. Adding to this, Cohen’s injury comes on her landing leg, and the force generated in the air puts a ton of pressure on the ankle and lower leg once a skater hits the ice. Cohen’s been known to two-foot landings in the past, and with the potential for pain on both her landing and takeoff, mistakes become far more likely.
Cohen has said that the main reason behind her two withdrawals was that the tendinitis has limited her ability to train triple flip and lutzes. Unfortunately, these are two of the most important and difficult jumps for Cohen, serving as her biggest opponents in Torino when she missed both in her long program. Cohen’s often struggled with an inside edge takeoff on her triple lutz, and under the current judging system it’s imperative that Cohen fix that error if she wants to contend for Olympic gold. However, when facing limited training on her triple lutz, it’s unlikely improvements will be made.
Whenever an athlete is dealing with an injury, the setbacks they experience go beyond the physical limitations presented by the injury. There’s also the unfortunate hit in confidence that an athlete has to contend with. Anyone in Cohen’s position would have to be extremely confident in their abilities in order to come back after a four-year absence and believe they have what it takes to make a third Olympic team. Cohen’s errors in past competitions have shown that self-confidence and focus aren‘t her strengths as a competitor. Without the constant repetition and runthroughs needed to feel secure before a big event, it’s expected that Cohen’s confidence will be even more diluted as she begins her quest to win a second Olympic medal.
Along with this, even if Cohen is fully recovered by Nationals and her injury isn’t as debilitating as it appears, making her season debut in January isn’t optimal. In September, Cohen said she was planning to use the Grand Prix as “practice” before Nationals, viewing the U.S. Championships as her true test this season. Debuting two new programs for the first time in front of a panel of judges is never easy. For this reason, many skaters choose to compete in local competitions during the summer months, so they can get any jitters and mistakes out of the way before events that really count. Without the mileage of two Grand Prix events, Cohen doesn’t have that luxury. She will have to show up in Spokane as ready and confident as skaters who’ve had numerous runthroughs and performances under their belts this season.
When you take all of these variables into consideration, even accepting that Cohen’s injury is authentic, you have to see that someone projecting Cohen as the frontrunner at Nationals and a potential Olympic medalist is making an emotional and fanatical claim and isn’t doing it based on empirical evidence. If I were to say that there’s a new skater whose been away from competitive skating for almost four years, has missed her fall competitions because of an injury and is coming to Nationals with two new programs and a history of inconsistency, would you expect this person to be a threat? Probably not.
Sasha Cohen may prove us all wrong, but with all these unfortunate hurdles to overcome, Cohen’s comeback may be over before it even began.