Small setback for Canada's new teen queen
By MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun
HAMILTON -- Cynthia Phaneuf was just about ready to go on the ice last night when the blood started to flow.
"Nosebleed," she said later. "A bit of ice and it was fine."
Now friends, you know you are seeing a younger demographic when your national level athlete suffers a nosebleed just prior to competition.
This, in itself, speaks to the bizarre dynamics of skating.
Olympic champion Tara Lipinski has undergone hip replacement therapy, the surgery of choice for the senior set. And at the Four Continents Championships, one of Canada's up and comers suffers a symptom that usually happens when you pack too many little girls together for a slumber party. This is one compressed life cycle.
The most exceptional thing about Cynthia Phaneuf, ex of Contrecoeur Quebec, now a local in most every living room where skating counts, is, of course, her age.
She is just 16 and already a Canadian champion following a shocking win last week in Edmonton. She will not win here, a medal podium would be a delightful turn after a middling short program that saw her sitting eighth.
Still, she's a story. Those dolls they throw on the ice, I'm betting she names them and takes them home and puts them in a big heart-shaped box with all the Barbies.
Last night, Phaneuf displayed the same charisma she flashed in Edmonton, albeit through a much choppier short program that saw her fall on her triple Lutz combination and wobble through her triple flip. The short program is worth a third of the total mark.
Expressive and arresting on the ice, she also is a seasoned pro off the skating surface. Hers is the language of coachspeak, that bland put-one-foot-ahead-of-another stuff that makes hockey and baseball players so dreadful to talk to. Just when you thought it was safe to talk to the teenagers ...
Her goal at the Four Continents, she said, was "to skate the way I did in practice."
The mistake on the Lutz, she said, was the outgrowth of a lack of confidence. "I know I can do it."
The secret to success: "I try to keep my head up and do things one thing at a time."
Phaneuf already has pronounced herself unconcerned with the fact that despite winning our national tournament, she will not represent Canada at the worlds. She will watch and we aren't noticeably the poorer for it. Jennifer Robinson, an old hag of 26 and a six-time Canadian pro along with Joannie Rochette, a prospect every bit as arresting as Phaneuf and at 18, a bit more seasoned, head to Dortmund, Germany, in mid-March for the worlds. Phaneuf's incubation will continue with the world juniors.
These women are leading a Renaissance. Rochette is a skilled skater with oceans of upside and Phaneuf, of course, served a hefty bit of notice with her win in Edmonton.
When Robinson stumbled in Edmonton, the ascendancy was put into sharper focus. Phaneuf and Rochette did not suddenly materialize, they have been the product of a renewed hot-house attitude in skating. Phaneuf was 13 when she was identified by coaching consultant Louis Stong and David Dore, then Canadian Figure Skating's head honcho. She has improved steadily but her rise hardly is meteoric. She won events in The Hague in Yugoslavia in 2001 and 2002 and turned heads with a second place finish among the juniors at the 2002 National Championships.
For Robinson, the night brought a redemption of sorts. Coming back to finish fourth in the short program was, she said, "the hardest thing she had ever done," in skating after her failure in Edmonton.
Cynthia Phaneuf didn't skate nearly as well. Then again, she didn't have to. The future has her name all over it.