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Maggie Hendricks

Cohen solid in return to ice; Nagasu leads after short program

Maggie Hendricks
Fourth-Place Medal

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Sasha Cohen could not leave her locker room without having cameras trained on her every move, but she handled the pressure well. Returning to the competitive ice for the first time since winning the silver at the Torino Olympics, Cohen turned in a solid short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, earning her second behind Mirai Nagasu going into Saturday's free skate.

Skating to "Espana Cani" and clad in red lace, the 25-year-old was tight on her opening combination pass, but landed both jumps. Cohen then easily landed her next two jumps before doing her best work, showing off beautiful spins, precise footwork and unbelievable flexibility. Her routine earned her a 69.63, good enough for second place.

Much earlier in the night, Mirai Nagasu turned in the performance of the evening. Her speed on the ice contributed to her flying jumps. Like Cohen, Nagasu's spins were near perfect.

Nagasu won the U.S. championship in 2008 when she was just 14 years old. The spotlight seemed to affect her, though, and she had a terrible 2009 nationals, taking fifth. Tonight's performance signaled that she has returned to her 2008 form.

Both of these women have excelled at the short program before, and have the ability to turn in stunning free skates. The question remains over both of their heads, though. Will the pressure get to them?

Cohen is more in the spotlight than she has ever been. Even at the 2006 Olympics, she was on the team with Michelle Kwan, a more well-known star with much heavier expectations. Cohen crumbled after winning the short program in Torino. Will the older, more mature Cohen be able to hold on for one of the two spots on the Olympic team?

Though Nagasu can hardly be considered old at 16, her experiences over the past two years have made her a stronger, more mature competitor. After she skated, World Champion and recently-named member of the U.S. Olympic team, Evan Lysacek, called Nagasu and told her to forget her performance in the short program so she could focus on the free skate. Will Nagasu be able to do that?

Nipping at both Cohen's and Nagasu's heels is Rachel Flatt, who skated a solid, error-free routine, earning her third place. However, the U.S. has just two spots for these Olympics. Will Flatt be able to move up with a dazzling free skate?

We won't have to wait long to find out the answer to all these questions. The free skate is this Saturday at 9 p.m. ET.

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