Japan Wins Gold in Women's Figure Skating

Japanese skater Shizuka Arakawa takes the gold medal in the most highly anticipated event of the Winter Olympics — women's figure skating. Sasha Cohen of the United States wins the silver medal and Russia's Irina Slutskaya takes the bronze.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block. Here's fair warning to those listeners who don't want to know the final results of the women's figure skating competition at the Winter Olympics, now would be the time to turn your radio down. But please come back in about three and a half minutes.

The winner today was Shizuka Arakawa of Japan, Sasha Cohen of the United States won the silver and Russia's Irina Slutskaya took the bronze. We're joined now by NPR's Tom Goldman, who's covering the Games in Turin. And Tom, it sounds like a dramatic finish today. What happened?

TOM GOLDMAN, reporting:

I will try to catch my breath and tell you Melissa. It really was exciting. As you said Shizuka Arakawa, who was third after the short program, vaulted over Irina Slutskaya and Sasha Cohen, who were sitting, well Cohen was one and Slutskaya two, and won the gold medal. The first women's, ladies figures skating gold medal for Japan. She skated the best among the leaders. Sasha Cohen fell once, stumbled on another jump. Slutskaya fell well into her program so there really was no controversy.

Arakawa, who was the 2004 World Champion, as I said, earned her country's first ever gold medal in ladies figure skating.

BLOCK: When you say vaulted over them that's figurative vaulting, but what was it about her that made her performance so good?

GOLDMAN: You know she could have. She's 5'5 and a half, and, and, which is very tall for a skater. But no, she, they only skate one at a time. She's a great jumper, powerful jumper. She uses her size very well, too, because she's very languid on the ice. Very long and has very elegant spins and just had a clean program. Skaters always say, oh I just want to skate my best. She did.

BLOCK: Now Sasha Cohen had a tiny, tiny lead after the short program, didn't practice yesterday. Huge controversy over that. What happened to her today?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. Well, this is the real sad story for skating fans. I don't care what country you're from. Everyone seems to love her because she's so gorgeous on the ice. She skated beautifully in the short program, but all the talk immediately after was about her never being able to put two clean programs together at a major championship so everyone was looking at the free skate going, oh, will she do it, will she not?

Incredible pressure, has to be unnerving because everyone's asking her about it. Plus after her short program she was icing her leg and skipped practice yesterday as you said. So that led to speculation that she was injured. Tonight in warm-up she fell twice and she looked shaky and then, of course, her program, she fell on her first jump, she stumbled and touched both hands to the ice on her second. The rest was beautiful, but she was playing catch up and you just couldn't help feel bad for her. Even though she smiled a lot, she had to be really bummed out. And coming off the ice she said to her coach John Nicks, I just couldn't get up on my jumps.

Few quick quotes from her afterwards, she said I'm really excited, I think it was a gift. I'm very pleased about her silver medal. But also about her performance, she said she was very disappointed in her skate. It just wasn't her night, but she said she's just really ecstatic to come home with a medal. So she's going both ways here.

BLOCK: That's the good spin. Now, Irina Slutskaya, the Russian who took silver in Salt Lake City, bronze today, was the favorite going in.

GOLDMAN: Yes, she really was. And she's 27. She's mature and so, you know, people figured, well she can handle whatever pressure there may be. But she's skating last and that is a tremendous amount of pressure. Even though she wore a fiery red dress and danced to flamenco music she just didn't really have the spark that she usually does. Probably it was nerves and, because she's usually a very explosive athletic skater.

And, you know, she just didn't have it. But, you know, more than halfway through her program she fell, which was really shocking because she looked like she was going well. And so she gets the bronze.

BLOCK: Tom, very briefly, I can't let you go without asking you about something that's changed the look of women's figure skating and that is unitards for the first time in the Olympics.

GOLDMAN: It is. And Irina Slutskaya wore one in her short program. She went with a conventional dress tonight. We're running out of time so I probably shouldn't say anything about what it looks like, but I don't know if it's a total trend yet.

BLOCK: I think it looks great. NPR's Tom Goldman at the Winter Olympics in Turin. Thanks very much.

GOLDMAN: You're welcome.

BLOCK: And a reminder, you can find the latest results and photos from the games at npr.org.

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