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Cohen separates herself from field

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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- While Michelle Kwan rests her sore hip, Sasha Cohen is not in early season form. She's beyond that.

Other skaters were feeling their way around at the start of this Olympic season, but Cohen opened with an impressive victory Saturday night in the Campbell's International Figure Skating Classic. She hit her jumps, racked up points under the new scoring system with spins and spirals and separated herself from the other five women in the field.

"I've seen a lot of elite lady skaters ... not in form at all in October-November," says her coach, John Nicks. "As one of the favorites going to the Olympics, Sasha did extremely well."

Cohen, who won her second world silver medal in March but has yet to win world or Olympic gold, says her performance reflected her summer of practice.

"I've been nailing like 99% of what I do in practice. So that really gave me the confidence to do what I did," she says.

Last Thursday, Kwan withdrew from this event, saying a strained hip ligament will sideline her until at least early November.

What was Cohen's reaction?

"A little surprised, but it's kind of the thought enters and goes. 'Oh, she's not here,' and then you're just kind of back to your own little world again," says Cohen, who will be 21 on Oct.26.

"That's what so great about the new system. I'm going to compare myself to the score I get, what the number is, not on a 5.8 compared to someone else's 5.7."

Skating to music from Romeo and Juliet, Cohen totaled 122.73 points (comparable to her 124.61 free skate this year at worlds). She received a score of 61.80 for the technical elements and 60.93 for her program components.

Skaters are still getting used to the system. When her technical score was announced, Cohen asked her coach, "Is that good?"

Nix says he responded, "Whenever you skate like that Sasha, you are very difficult to beat."

Next up: Cohen's next event will be the Smart Ones Skate America, Oct.20-23 in Atlantic City. She takes home a $50,000 check from Campbell's. "I'll have to pay for gasoline. It's so expensive," she says.

Kimmie Meissner, who turned 16 last Tuesday and doesn't have to worry about gas prices because she's yet to get a learner's permit, was second with 109.08. Japan's Shizuka Arakawa, 2004 world champion, took third (105.86.)

Meissner, who landed a rare triple axel en route to third at the U.S. nationals in January, left that out Saturday night because she'd had trouble with it in practice here.

"I have a lot more competitions to get it in there," she says.

Japan's Takeshi Honda got the men's victory, followed by the USA's Michael Weiss, Tim Goebel and Johnny Weir. Evan Lysacek, bronze medalist for the USA at this year's world championships, took two spills and placed sixth.

"This is kind of like a preview of the U.S. nationals for the men. Four guys here, and all of them I think deserve to be on the Olympic team ... but only three are going to get to go," says Weiss, 29, two-time world bronze medalist. "Somebody will have to be sitting home watching the Olympics on TV. I just hope that's not me."

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