One last chanceRobinson skates into her final world championship with a medal in mind
By BILL LANKHOF -- Toronto Sun
If there is one thing Jennifer Robinson hates it is the cold. Which wouldn't be so unusual, except that Robinson makes her living walking on frozen water.
"A very poor career choice," the six-time Canadian women's figure skating champion says with a laugh.
Welcome to the incongruent world of perhaps the most decorated, yet least renowned champion in the history of this country.
She is a 27-year-old bundle of charm, wit and persistence.
"I've got the best job in the world. I love the speed ... the feeling of being on the ice. I love the audience yelling and screaming. At first it can be uncomfortable but you learn to love it ... I love the costumes. I'm really just a pretty girly-girl."
And for the past decade she has been the face of all that is good, and all that is maligned, in Canadian women's skating.
This is because while she has won more Canadian championships than any other skater, it is also true that in almost a decade of trying she has never been able to take that last step on to the podium at the Olympics or world championships.
"I'm not naturally gifted. I have to work hard at it every day," says Robinson, who discovered long before losing her Canadian title last week in Edmonton that the distance from champ to chump is short.
In fact, there was a time in 1998 after consecutive third-place finishes at the Canadians that she considered retiring.
"I'm a fighter. It wasn't a fantastic experience in Edmonton but if I let one event affect me I'd have quit years ago," says Robinson, who came back to win national titles every year from 1999 to 2003.
People can call Robinson a lot of things, and they have, but nobody could ever accuse her of being a quitter.
Her shortcomings, more than anything, may be that she is a woman in a world dominated by flying adolescent pixies.
While winning national titles is fine, skating insiders believe in another time, another age, maybe even a generation ago when this sport wasn't ruled by juvenile Peter Pans, she might've been so much more.
She has the grace, the flow and elegance that once was the hallmark of women's skating.
"All the girls now have dynamic programs. Skating has turned very technical (in layman terms that means big jumps) and my style is very balletic," Robinson says. She argues that her athleticism has improved. "I do triple-triples now."
But, eventually, she agrees the synopsis may have validity. "A big part of figure skating is making the difficult look easy and when you look at film of Karen Magnusson and Sonja Henie they all had that ease of movement. I might have fit in well."
But that was then and today Robinson says skaters have "to push the technical (jumps) side -- that's what makes it exciting."
At the worlds, that is also what has made her seventh, eighth, ninth, ninth, 15th, 18th, 19th and 21st. The Salt Lake Olympics were her biggest thrill but the seventh-place finish was, if expected, still disappointing.
Now, there may be just one last chance -- next month at the worlds in Germany.
"I've achieved everything -- and more -- than I ever dreamed possible," says Robinson, who as a child practised doing spins on the kitchen floor. "As a kid my only dream was to make the Olympic team. Figure skating has given me everything."
Well, almost everything. The one thing it has not given her is world acclaim.
"As for not winning a medal on the world stage if it doesn't happen it would be hard," she says.
There's another pause and one gets the feeling just thinking about the possibility pains her.
"In my heart, I wish this was not true. Being in sports, everyone wants more. I have the technical capabilities. I have the program. I believe I'm as good as any of the other women."
The problem is making the judges believe it. It will not be easy. It is only because Cynthia Phaneuf is going to the world juniors that Robinson -- who is using next week's Four Continents championship in Hamilton as a balm to help her forget the disappointment of losing her title -- is even getting one more shot.
There are three things people say when meeting Robinson:
"How are you?"
And, "What's the matter with Canadian women's figure skating?"
Not since Liz Manley in 1988 at the Calgary Games has a Canadian woman stepped on the podium at an Olympics or world championship.
"When I was younger it really made me mad. But over time I realized it wasn't personal; people just wanted to know."
Being the flawed Canadian icon, perhaps one has to expect such minor annoyances.