Little kids rushed over to world-renowned figure skater Sasha Cohen at the new “Ice at Santa Monica” skating rink in hopes of getting autographs. Cohen gladly obliged.

The 2006 Olympic silver medalist and 2006 national figure skating champion was in town to perform at the opening ceremony of the new rink — at Fifth Street and Arizona Avenue — on Thursday, December 6th.

“I’m so excited to be here,” Cohen said, noting that it was nice to be ice-skating outdoors in Southern California. “I’m used to skating in colder weather, like at the Rockefeller Center [in New York City] or in Canada.”

The opening ceremony event of Ice at Santa Monica was sponsored by Starbucks Coffee Company and the Bayside District Corporation.

Along with Cohen, U.S. champion and world bronze medalist Evan Lysacek also made an appearance at the rink — and even escorted excited little kids around the ice.

Cohen was there on behalf of P.S. ARTS, a nonprofit organization she supports that is dedicated to restoring arts education in Title I public schools by providing classes in dance, music, theater and visual arts.

The organization works with 12,000 students every week from 24 schools across Los Angeles County.

“P.S. ARTS is very close to my heart,” Cohen said, adding that dance, music, theater and art classes were always her favorite when she was in school.

About 90 students from McKinley Elementary School in Santa Monica, a school that P.S. ARTS works with, were at the event and got to skate free.

“It’s so fun to be a part of something like this,” said Cohen. “I want to do everything I can to raise awareness to make sure kids have the same opportunities that I had. It’s really exciting to work with younger kids. They are our future and we need to invest in our future.”

Cohen says her favorite thing to see from the tykes is “that childish enthusiasm, that innocence.”

Cohen, who lives in Newport Beach but travels eight to nine months out of the year, is currently performing in the Stars on Ice cross-country tour. She has taken some time off from competitive skating as she pursues a career in acting, but she says she has not retired from the sport.

She plans on being back on the ice competitively in 2009, a year before the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.

Life for Cohen, she says, has been “very busy.”

In fact, immediately after her performance at the rink, she was off to the airport. Still, she says she was happy for the “unique opportunity.”

“I love Santa Monica and the beach,” she said. “It’s fun to do something local. You have the fresh air, trees. It’s festive and fun and gets you in the [holiday] spirit.”

Mayor Herb Katz made an appearance at the rink just before Cohen’s performance.

“I’m just pleased [the rink] is here and over 5,000 people have come over the last two weeks,” Katz said. “That’s a lot of people skating. We’re really proud. And we’re very grateful to Starbucks. If it weren’t for Starbucks, it [the rink] probably wouldn’t have happened this year.”

Katz also said he’s pleased that the ice-skating rink is turning out to be a “kind of community.”

“I hope you guys come back and keep skating,” Cohen told the crowd, adding that it was great to skate in the city where “I lived the first year of my life.”

The ice rink is open daily until January 6th.

Admission is $10, which includes skate rental.

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