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Sasha Cohen Stumbles To Olympic Silver

Shizuka Arakawa skated off with Japan's first medal of these Olympics — a gold in the showcase event.

What a way to end a shutout!

The 2004 world champion stunned favorites Sasha Cohen of the United States and Irina Slutskaya of Russia to claim figure skating's biggest prize Thursday night.

Arakawa did it with an elegance and technical brilliance that even had two-time Olympic winner Katarina Witt standing and applauding before the Japanese skater was done. Cohen fell twice and finished with a silver; Slutskaya fell once and took bronze.

How did Cohen bounce back from her poor start in the finals? Harry Smith and Tracy Smith asked her, and two former Olympic figure skating champs, on The Early Show Friday. Click here to get their thoughts.

The Japanese team has struggled in the mountains and on the ice in Turin. But Arakawa, third after the short program and a mere .71 points behind Cohen, was magnificent. Her spectacular spirals thrilled the crowd and, more importantly, impressed the judges.

She was emotionless for most of her breathtaking four-minute routine, then broke into a smile that only got bigger when scores were flashed. When her personal best of 125.32 points for the free skate were displayed, she flashed a "V" for victory sign then pumped her fist when she moved into first place with 191.34 points.

Cohen had already flubbed her first two jumps — and her shot at gold. That left Slutskaya, a two-time world champion and 2002 Olympic silver medalist. She lacked sparkle in her free skate and the fall ended any chance she had.

That ended Russia's hopes for an unprecedented sweep of the gold after taking the men's, pairs and ice dancing titles.

Arakawa, 24, became the first Japanese Olympic gold medalist in figure skating and just the second with any medal; Midori Ito, one of Arakawa's idols, won silver behind Kristi Yamaguchi in 1992. Ito led the cheers of the flag-waving Japanese in the crowd.

Cohen's history of flopping in the biggest international events bit her again.

Even her first U.S. title last month came with some questions because nine-time champion Michelle Kwan was sidelined. She also collapsed in the 2003 and 2004 national championships that went to Kwan, and the 2004 worlds won by Arakawa.

Not to mention the Salt Lake City Olympics, where she faded from third after the short program and Sarah Hughes soared from fourth to the top.

Emily Hughes, Sarah's 17-year-old sister, fell on a triple loop and shortened another jump, but her seventh-place finish was remarkable for a newcomer.

"I am really excited about what happened, this being my first Olympics and my first big international. I am taking away a lot from this competition," said Hughes, who replaced the injured Kwan and arrived in Turin just a week before the free skate.

The other American, 16-year-old Kimmie Meissner of Bel Air, Md., wound up sixth, one spot down from her standing after the short program.

In other action at Turin:

  • Russia won its eighth gold medal when it easily beat two-time defending champion Germany in the 4x6-kilometer biathlon relay Thursday. The Russian team of Bogaliy, Svetlana Ishmouratova, Olga Zaitseva and Albina Akhatova covered the San Sicario course in 1 hour, 16 minutes, 12.5 seconds. Germany's star-studded team of Martina Glagow, Andrea Henkel, Katrin Apel and Kati Wilhelm finished 50.7 seconds behind for the silver, and France overtook Belarus for the bronze.
  • The U.S. Olympic Committee says American skeleton racer Kevin Ellis has a broken vertebra in his back. Ellis was injured while competing against members of the U.S. luge team in a made-for-T-V, non-Olympic sledding event. The 32-year-old accountant from Dallas is in a Turin hospital. He's a first-time Olympian who placed 17th in the men's skeleton competition at the Turin Games.
  • The United States picked up a bronze medal, courtesy of Rosey Fletcher. She finished third in the parallel giant slalom, becoming the first American woman to win a medal in the event.
  • Police say the abandoned car near the main press center at the Winter Olympics was a false alarm. Witnesses saw two people leave the car with its engine running. Police were notified and they evacuated about 150 residents from the area. Nearby cars were towed.
  • Switzerland continued its dominance of the snowboarding parallel giant slalom when three-time defending World Cup champion Daniela Meuli won gold after her opponents in the semifinals and final crashed. Amelie Kober of Germany won silver and Rosey Fletcher won the United States' first ever medal in the event by taking bronze.

    Away from the competition, testing was continuing on doping samples taken from 10 Austrian athletes last weekend during raids of the country's accommodation in the Italian Alps.

    "The laboratory analysis is still ongoing," International Olympic Committee spokeswoman Giselle Davies said. "It just takes this long sometimes, and that's the bottom line."

    The testing was carried out as Italian police raided the athletes' rooms and seized blood transfusion equipment and other materials linked to disgraced Austrian ski coach Walter Mayer.

    Austrian ski federation chief Peter Schroecksnadel was meeting with prosecutors at Turin's main judicial offices, said Giampaolo Zancan, a top Italian lawyer hired by the Austrians.

    "He is meeting prosecutors as a witness," Zancan told The Associated Press. "I accompanied him and left him there because as a witness he doesn't need a lawyer with him."

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