Cohen to Miss U.S. Championships Because of Stress Fracture in Back

Sasha Cohen of Laguna Niguel, who charmed judges at last year's U.S. figure skating championships with her precociously elegant performance, won't get a chance to defend her silver medal.

Cohen, who has a stress fracture in her lower back, withdrew from this year's competition Wednesday night. Neither Cohen nor her coach, John Nicks, was willing to comment Wednesday, but Cohen is scheduled to appear at a news conference today.

Cohen, 16, began to experience pain in her back about a month ago. The stress fracture was detected and a doctor told her to stay off the ice for a month. However, she found a second doctor who said she would suffer no harm if she continued to jump and skate. She aggravated the condition 10 days ago but was still hopeful she could compete. She flew to Boston Tuesday and skated the second of her two scheduled practices Wednesday but withdrew hours later.

Nicks said last week that while he understood Cohen's eagerness to compete and to keep her name in front of the judges in the year leading up to the 2002 Olympics, he was concerned that continuing to skate might cause serious, long-term problems for her.

Cohen, considered a potential challenger to defending U.S. women's champion Michelle Kwan, finished fourth at the Cup of Russia and fifth at the Nations Cup in Germany this season. Both events were in November.

Her withdrawal follows by a day the withdrawal of Naomi Nari Nam of Irvine, who is also coached by Nicks and also trains at the soon-to-be-closed Ice Chalet in Costa Mesa. Nam had a hip injury that kept her off the ice for six weeks, and she couldn't regain enough stamina and sharpness to completely perform her programs.

--HELENE ELLIOTT

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