Cohen wins short program, Slutskaya second

Sasha Cohen saved the best for last.

With American flags waving everywhere and chants of "U-S-A, U-S-A" rocking the arena, the U.S. champion was brilliant as the final skater in the Olympic short program Tuesday night, edging past world champion Irina Slutskaya of Russia by a slim .03 points.

Cohen's spectacular spirals and crisp footwork had the crowd clapping to the beat of "Dark Eyes," a Russian folk tune. She even flashed some attitude as she concluded a superb evening of skating, signaling coach John Nicks that this deserved the top spot on the podium heading into Thursday night's free skate.

She got the marks she felt she deserved and the United States has yet another women's gold in sight.

Americans have won three of the last four Olympic titles, and if Cohen, a two-time world silver medalist, is this dynamic in the long program, she could add another title.

And break Russia's stranglehold on gold in Turin. No country has swept all four championships in a games, and the Russians already own three with Slutskaya barely behind Cohen.

Japan's Shizuka Arakawa and Fumie Suguri were third and fourth, and American Kimmie Meissner stood fifth.

Emily Hughes, added to the U.S. team nine days ago when Michelle Kwan withdrew with a groin injury, wasn't intimidated in her first major international event. The 17-year-old sister of 2002 gold medalist Sarah Hughes who was in the audience holding up a "Hughes Gotta Believe" banner was seventh, reports AP.

According to USA Today, Slutskaya wears a sparkly jump suit that looks like a leftover from the short-lived variety show The Brady Bunch Hour . But she's alternately smooth and spectacular, and there's never any doubt that she will take the lead (but thanks, Eurosport, for trying to build the suspense). Her total of 66.70 bests Meissner by 7.30.

Emily Hughes takes the ice in a blue dress while her fans and family (including her sister Sarah, the 2002 gold medalist) unravel a banner. She gets cleanly through a few jumps and one impressive combination, though her transitions don't seem quite fluid. She ends by spinning and spinning and spinning, leaving a big patch of scuffed ice. She's exuberant as she finishes, and the judges move her up into third behind Meissner and Gedevanishvili.

Elene Gedevanishvili, wearing a "Georgia" sweatshirt in the kiss and cry that calls to mind the Bulldogs rather than the country, posts a 33.25 for technical scores but doesn't quite dislodge Meissner from first place.

Kimmie Meissner giggles when she talks and soars when she skates. She's at the Winter Olympics, she's 16, and she's an underdog, which, based on recent history, means there's a good chance she could be standing on the medals podium Thursday.

But first comes tonight's short program. Appropriately, the youngest competitor at these Winter Olympics (16 years, 4 months and 17 days) drew one of the earliest start times, starting second among 29 skaters at about 7:07 p.m. (12:07 p.m. in Houston), informs Houston Chronicle.


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