Olympic ice-skating gold-medal hopeful Sasha Cohen's ability has never been questioned -- but her mental toughness has.
"Sasha's biggest weakness has been her lack of concentration, her inability to stay focused for four minutes of a long program," said USA Today columnist Christine Brennan. "Enemy No. 1 for Sasha Cohen is Sasha Cohen."
Cohen will face her old demons during tonight's long program as she tries to maintain her marginal lead over Russian Irina Slutskaya and finally capture the elusive Olympic gold medal.
Cohen started skating when she was 7. For years, however, the Californian has lived in the shadow of other competitors. She finished second to Michelle Kwan at the national championships four times. Although she has been poised to win a medal several times, she has stumbled when it has counted the most. At the 2002 Winter Games, Cohen was third after the short program, but slipped out of medal contention into fourth after a sloppy long program.
"I was a different person, a different athlete," Cohen said of her past failures. "I've learned and matured so much, and learned how to handle the nerves a bit better since then. I've just evolved."
The Price of a Difficult Routine
At 5-foot-2 and 95 pounds, Cohen switched coaches three times after the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, before returning to her original mentor, John Nicks. Cohen, 21, has also conquered nagging back problems, which stem from jaw-dropping contortions in her skating routines.
Cohen's program is packed with seven triple jumps, twists and turns suited almost perfectly for the new judging system that rewards the difficulty of routines.
There were rumors that Cohen was injured when she decided to skip both of her practices on Wednesday. But she looked strong when she showed up for her final warm-up this morning.
"Of course, I want to skate great, to skate amazing," Cohen said. "But I think the best way I can do that is to take the pressure off and to enjoy it."
Cohen is wearing a Kabbalah bracelet -- a symbol of Jewish mysticism -- to ward off evil spirits. She says she cooks for relaxation but has found another way to wind down while in Italy.
"I brought a couple of DVDs of 'Sex and the City' to keep me and my mind at ease," Cohen said.
Cohen's teammates will also be vying for a spot on the podium tonight. Kimmie Meissner is in fifth place and Emily Hughes sits in the seventh position going into the final event.