'American Idol'; Cohen Relishes Spotlight as Country's Best Skater

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TURIN, Italy - Sasha Cohen is ready for her close-up.

So long, Michelle Kwan. Out of her way, Emily Hughes.

Much to the relief of NBC, the ladies figure skating portion of the Winter Olympics begins tonight - take that, "American Idol" - and Cohen will occupy center stage as America's best female skater.

"I won't lie," she has said. "I love the attention."

The only question now is what she will do with it. Cohn has been billed as the potential savior of the Olympics' sagging TV ratings and the poor performance of U.S. athletes here. Like an ant that can lift hundreds of times its weight, Cohen is incredibly strong for someone who stands 5-foot-2 and weighs 95 pounds, but that's still quite a load to bear.

"At this moment, I don't feel a lot of pressure," she told the media horde yesterday. "I want to have a great time out there and really enjoy it. Give it my all and go home feeling great about this whole experience. I'm not putting the pressure on myself to have to win or to be perfect. It's about enjoying the process."

Maybe she really believes that, or maybe it's because the 21-year-old Californian is not favored by many to win the gold medal. Russia's Irina Slutskaya is the consensus choice, followed by Japan's Shizuka Arakawa.

As for the rest of the U.S. team, Kwan is back in the United States, shelved by injury again after the controversy over getting a special audition.

Hughes, 17, whose sister, Sarah, won the 2002 gold medal in Salt Lake City, was dramatically summoned off the bench. But she probably is not ready yet. For that matter, neither is the third and youngest member of the U.S. team, 16-year-old Kimmie Meissner.

Cohen is America's latest golden girl - at least as of yesterday - with all the requisite perks, including the first-class diva treatment. She skipped the opening ceremony and lived and trained far from the main Olympic Village in a place called Courmayeur.

"It's been beautiful," she said. "It was very relaxing and great for training. But it's nice to come back to the hustle and bustle and get it going again."

If the size of the press horde was one affirmation of Cohen's status as America's glamour performer in the Games' glamour event, another was the big, googly eyes of Shaun White. The loosey-goosey snowboarder has made his intentions regarding Cohen through the media, saying he hopes Cohen is impressed with his gold medal. …