She expects gold for Lipnitskaya – but notes the ice has been unpredictable

By Jeff Truesdell
Updated February 19, 2014 10:40 AM
Credit: Paul Morigi/WireImage

A two-time Olympian who took silver at the 2006 Games in Turin, Sasha Cohen knows the pressure of gliding onto figure skating’s biggest stage.

Now the Columbia University student, 29, is kicking back as a spectator, along with the rest of us.

So who is she looking forward to seeing when the ladies’ figure skating competition takes center ice in Sochi?

“I’m very excited to see Yuna Kim of South Korea try to defend her gold medal,” says Cohen. Kim, she says, “is known for having the rare combination of grace, superior skills, and easily executing incredibly difficult jump combinations.”

But don’t count out a star of last week’s team competition, Russian teen Yulia Lipnitskaya, who wowed the crowd with an acrobatic final I-spin, similar to the “Sasha spin” that Cohen popularized.

“Her flexibility is unrivaled in the ladies’ competition,” she says, admiringly. “Yulia’s only 15, but she has all the same skill sets that make Yuna so difficult to beat. It’ll be very interesting to watch them face off.”

Join PEOPLE and Sasha Cohen for a viewing party on Twitter during the ladies long program Thursday. Follow @peoplemag and @sashacohenNYC during NBC’s prime-time telecast, starting 8 p.m. ET. Tweet your questions, comments, and reactions to skating’s big night!

Also on her radar: Mao Asada, Japan’s national champion who took silver behind her rival Kim four years ago in Vancouver. “Mao has the experience, she performs well under pressure, and she is the only lady trying the triple axel,” notes Cohen. “In addition to her technical elements, she has a very mature and elegant program.”

Her predictions for the podium? Gold for Lipnitskaya, silver for Kim, and bronze for Asada.

But the finish is always unpredictable. “The ice is slippery, and as we saw with the men’s competition, anything can happen,” she says.

Current U.S. champion Gracie Gold, 18, may be a dark horse medalist, she says, “if she pulls out a great performance, and either Mao or Yulia or Yuna make substantial mistakes. Gracie just has this fresh, lovely quality about her. She’s also a strong jumper, and has natural grace and presence. She’s the leading American lady going in, so she’s certainly going to have millions of eyes on her.”

Cohen will be cheering for Gold as well as teammates Ashley Wagner and Polina Edmunds. Regardless of who is favored to win, she says, “I always root for the U.S. skaters.”