February 20, 2006 12:00 PM

WHY YOU’LL WATCH HER: This is a stronger, tougher Sasha than the one who finished a disappointed fourth in Salt Lake in ’02. In fact, she won the U.S. Nationals in St. Louis on Jan. 14, handily outskating Kimmie Meissner, 16, and Emily Hughes, 17, kid sister of gold medalist Sarah Hughes.

LEGS OF STEEL: During the 2003 season, the 5′2″, 95-lb. Cohen began serious off-ice training, including running and lifting weights—she says she can now leg-press 400 lbs. “I feel now when I land my jumps, I’m landing on a column,” Cohen, 21, recently told SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, “rather than the spaghetti noodles I skated on in 2000.”

NEW ‘TUDE: The old Cohen had a reputation for imploding under competition pressure. No more. “In the past, I felt uncertain whether she would skate well,” says NBC analyst Scott Hamilton, who saw her win the U.S. title last month. “This time she conveyed, “This is my night, and you’re all competing for second place.'”

DON’t PLAY TWISTER WITH HER: “She can do unbelievable contortions with her body,” says her teammate, men’s world bronze medalist Evan Lysacek. “I’ve seen her twist her legs around her head. She’s the most flexible person I’ve ever seen.”

OTHER HIDDEN TALENTS: “Sasha crosses her eyes pretty well and she can make weird funny faces,” says Lysacek.

PASSION FOR FASHION: Cohen, who recently served as a judge on an episode of Project Runway, played a major role in designing her Olympic costumes—a bright Gypsy outfit for her short skate and an elegant “pale antique gold that shimmers on the ice” dress for her Romeo and Juliet long program. “I want a dress that makes me feel special and absolutely gorgeous,” says Cohen. She has a pronounced weakness for cashmere. Says Lysacek: “She’s a big kid who likes to cuddle up in it.”

SHOUT OUT TO JIMMY FALLON: Speaking of cuddling, Lysacek says his friend is “very picky about men—she wants someone who is supportive and tall.” Or funny. Like Jimmy Fallon, whom she met at a movie premiere. (No, they haven’t dated.) “Sasha is very fond of him,” Lysacek says, “because he has a great sense of humor.”

FLASHBULBS IN HER FUTURE? Whether or not Cohen hangs up her skates after the Olympics, count on seeing plenty of her. “I love attention,” she says. “I love going to events and photo shoots…. I enjoy it all; the clothing, the makeup, the excitement.”

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