Showdown On Olympic Ice

The big buzz at the Winter Games in Torino, Italy is about the women's figure skating final Thursday night.

As Tracy Smith reports, Sasha Cohen of the United States is No. 1 heading into the free skate, barely ahead of Russia's Irina Slutskaya after the short program.

But remember 2002, when Michelle Kwan had the lead until fellow American Sarah Hughes skated out from fourth place to win the gold medal?

American Kimmie Meissner is coming on strong heading into Thursday night, and Emily Hughes, who's in seventh, has a family history of Olympic upset. She's Sarah Hughes' sister. Also, Japan's Shizuka Arakawa, the 2004 world champion, is in third.

But, says Smith, to E.M. Swift, a senior writer for Sports Illustrated, the fight for gold comes down to just Cohen, 21, and Slutskaya, 27.

The pressure on both women, he says, is unimaginable.

"Irina Slutskaya would become the first woman from Russia ever to win a gold medal in singles," he told Smith. "And so, that's pressure. Sasha Cohen? It would change her life if she got the gold. She's been working for this, certainly for the last four years, but essentially her whole life. That's pressure."

Adding to the pressure on Slutskaya, Smith points out, is that her countrymen will have swept the figure skating events at this Olympics if she takes the gold.

"It's incredible pressure (on both)," says Tara Lipinski, who won the figure skating gold at the 1998 Games.

"To this day," she told The Early Show co-anchor Hannah Storm Thursday, "I remember going out there, my legs were shaking and I'm like, 'I don't know how I'm going to do this.' So I know what the girls are going through."

What about long shots such as Meissner or Emily Hughes skating away with the gold?

Sports Illustrated's Swift doesn't see it: "I don't think that (they) will win a medal this Olympics. They both skated fantastic, and if they both end up in the top five, which is where Kimmie is now, that would be such a great accomplishment. But I don't think (they're) gonna see the podium."

The battle between Slutskaya and Cohen, Smith points out, might also come down to who is one hundred percent physically.
  • Christine Lagorio

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