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Cohen Hits the Practice Ice: Will Face Tough Competition in Spokane

Sasha Cohen has looked solid at her practice sessions in Spokane, Wash. where the 2010 U.S. Championships are taking place. The ladies event begins tonight. “She looks great, like no time has passed,” said Scott Hamilton who is on hand at the competition for NBC.

The final two disciplines, ladies and dance, will be contested this weekend as the remainder of the U.S. Olympic figure skating team will be determined. Jeremy Abbott, Evan Lysacek and Johnny Weir finished 1-2-3, respectively, in the men's event and will represent the United States in Vancouver at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games. Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett won the pairs title last weekend and will also be on the U.S. Olympic team along with pairs silver medalists Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig.

In the ladies event, two Olympic berths are at stake. Cohen is inthe spotlight becasue she has not competed since the 2006 World Championships in Calgary.

“Some things actually look better than they did four years ago,” Hamilton said about the 2006 U.S. champion. Cohen returned to her long-time coach, John Nicks, in the fall. She won the 2006 Olympic medal under his tutelage.

"A lot of the people that Sasha Cohen is competing against have had four years to kind of up their game and get used to competing under this system," Hamilton said. "And one thing that might hold her back is the fact that she hasn’t been on competitive ice, but she looked really comfortable. She was very happy and practiced well. She’ll be in the mix throughout.”

Competing against Cohen for a berth on the U.S. Olympic team is two-time defending U.S. silver medalist Rachel Flatt. Flatt, the 2008 World junior champion, and Japan’s Miki Ando are the only ladies who have beaten World champion Kim Yu-Na in a competition segment this season (no one has beaten her overall). Flatt defeated Kim in the free skate at Skate America in November.

Other competition for the Olympic spots will come from defending U.S. champion Alissa Czisny, defending U.S. bronze medalist Caroline Zhang and 2008 U.S. champion Mirai Nagasu. 2007 U.S. silver medalist Emily Hughes will make her first appearance at nationals since 2007; she missed the past two years due to injuries. She is on a one-year break from Harvard, hoping to qualify for her second Olympics. Hughes is the younger sister of 2002 Olympic champion Sarah Hughes.

“It’s going to be an exciting competition and there is no sure thing,” Hamilton said. “There are a lot of women this year that can rise to the challenge and with two good performances could accumulate enough points to win this thing.

“You look at Alissa (Czisny), the defending champion, who’s skating very well here. You can look at Rachael Flatt who’s turned in performance after performance and seems to be consistent enough to skate well under that kind of pressure. Then you have to look at Ashley Wagner who has been coming on strong (she claimed a spot at the 2009-10 Grand Prix Final). Then [there is] the champion of two years ago, Mirai Nagasu, who looks really good, really calm. The U.S. has only two spots on the women’s team, and we have more ladies than that poised, in shape and ready to try to claim one of those two spots.”

Three Olympic berths are at stake in ice dance. Five-time U.S. champions Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto will compete for their sixth U.S. title; a win would give them the record for most U.S. dance titles. Belbin and Agosto are already the most successful U.S. dance team in history, with four world medals, three Four Continents titles, and an Olympic silver medal from Torino.

Their main competition will come from 2009 U.S. champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who are fresh off a win at the Grand Prix Final, the first-ever by an American team. Davis and White have never defeated Belbin and Agosto in competition. They won at nationals last year when Belbin and Agosto did not compete.

“The U.S. has never been this well represented in a dance event going into Olympics as we are this year,” Hamilton said. “Tanith and Ben and Meryl and Charlie are two of the best dance teams in the world, so they’re going at it nose to nose competing for the national title because that would give them momentum into the Olympics.

“It’s going to be interesting to see who wins there because Charlie and Meryl have been on the rise like crazy, but Tanith and Ben won a medal last Olympics and they’ve been dominant on the international stage.”

Also competing for one of the three Olympic spots are two-time U.S. bronze medalists Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre, defending U.S. silver medalists Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates and 2009 World junior champions Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein, who will make their senior debut in Spokane.

Event host Bob Costas and legendary figure skater and announcer Dick Button host NBC Sports’ coverage from Spokane Arena in Spokane, Wash. NBC’s Olympic figure skating broadcast team of Tom Hammond (play-by-play), Hamilton (analyst), Sandra Bezic (analyst), and Andrea Joyce (reporter) will call the action for both NBC and Universal Sports.

COVERAGE ON NBC SPORTS:

- Saturday, 3-6 p.m. ET - Free Dance (Live), Ladies Short
- Saturday, 9-11 p.m. ET/PT - Ladies Free Skate (Live)
- Sunday, 4-6 p.m. ET - Recap of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships
- Sunday, 9-11 p.m. ET/PT - Exhibition of Champions and announcement of U.S. Olympic Team

UNIVERSAL SPORTS COVERAGE:

- Tonight, 10:30 p.m. - 2:30 a.m. ET - Ladies Short (Live)
- Tomorrow, 11 p.m. - 12 midnight ET - Original Dance (Live)
- Saturday, 11 p.m. - 2 a.m. ET - Ladies Short and Free Dance (Re-Air of NBC Show)
- Sunday, 2-4 a.m. ET (late Saturday night) - Ladies Free Skate (Re-Air NBC Show)

Coverage this weekend will also include the official announcement of the U.S. Olympic team on Sunday in primetime (9-11 p.m. ET/PT) along with the Exhibition of Champions and a full recap of the competition on Sunday (4-6 p.m. ET).


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