Three years ago, Lauren Wilson was the best junior women's figure skater in Canada.
Now, the 17-year-old London native isn't sure what her future holds.
The first day of qualifying yesterday at the Canadian figure skating championships didn't make things any clearer for her.
"It's my last year of high school," she said. "It's a big decision year. A lot of it will depend on how things go here."
Judging by her debut, she could be picking out textbooks next fall.
Wilson posted a score of 57.47 on the new cumulative points judging system, finishing ninth in Group B of the senior women's qualifying, well behind the 109.41 of leader Joannie Rochette, from Ile-Dupas, Que., and the 88.84 of B.C.'s Mira Leung.
Wilson fell a couple of times and singled out on two other jumps -- never a good, early shot of confidence.
The top 12 in each of the two groups advanced to Thursday's short program, so she survived to skate another day.
Still, it was a far cry from 2002 when she wowed a crowd at Hamilton's Copps Coliseum with a surprising national junior victory. She had been ill at the previous year's nationals and had finished 19th, way off the Skate Canada radar screen.
The Copps stage was magic for Wilson. She beat current Canadian senior champ Cynthia Phaneuf and was a jumping machine in both the short and long programs, spitting out triple jumps with a confidence that few competitors possessed.
Of course, the whirlwind win attracted the attention of top-level coaches around the country and Wilson was quickly jetting off to faraway places as a member of the Canadian junior squad.
But something went awry on the way to stardom. Wilson moved to Barrie to the Mariposa school of skating to study under coaches Michelle Leigh and Lee Barkell and almost immediately went through a major growth spurt.
"I have grown a lot taller since Hamilton, I'm five-foot-seven now," Wilson said. "It was a challenge at first, my coaches started teaching me how to jump all over again (because of the body change). At first, I didn't understand why it had to be different -- I already knew how to jump, I knew I could do it.
"It took me a while to be comfortable with it. Now, it's just a case of getting over the mental aspect of it and doing it on the ice."
To draw a comparison, Wilson's struggles are like the baseball player who makes it to the pro level and is told by his batting coach to reconstruct his swing. You can also look at Tiger Woods, who went through the frustrating task of relearning how to hit a golf ball in the hopes of winning more major tournaments in the future.
It's still early to tell if the long-term pain will yield any gain for Wilson, but she knows you only have so much time and patience at the top level of Canadian figure skating.
Wilson lost the 2004 Western Ontario sectionals to Waterloo's Erin Scherrer and, in her lone international assignment of the year, finished seventh in juniors at Budapest.
In Barrie, she is surrounded by top skating talent and instruction. Star senior men's skater Jeffrey Buttle has a part credit for choreographing her program.
"It's an outstanding skating environment," she said. "There's an elite segment and you need three triple jumps to be in it. It's a great learning experience."
Recently, the Wilsons became full-time residents of Barrie and only come back to the London area for holidays.
"My brother (Kyle) is on a hockey scholarship at Colgate University in (Hamilton) New York so my mother (Susan) decided to come with me to Barrie," Lauren said. "After a while, my dad (Bud) said, 'This is crazy. You're renting there and I'm living here in this house by myself.'
"So he put the house up for sale and it sold in two days."
Right now, Wilson has two days to turn her fortunes around at nationals. Either way, it's going to play a big part in deciding which route she wants her life to take.
Skate or study?
In Group A qualifying, defending women's champion Cynthia Phaneuf struggled but felt she skated well enough to erase the memory of her sixth-place performance at the recent Grand Prix Final in Beijing, China.
She earned a 93.66 in the new judging system to easily qualify for the Thursday short program.
Senior women's qualifying
Top 12 in each group advace to Thursday's short program
1. Cynthia Phaneuf, QC, 93.66 points; 2. Lesley Hawker, C. Ont., 87.50; 3. Amanda Billings, AB, 74.58; 4. Erin Scherrer, W. Ont., 72.91; 5. Marie-Luc Jodoin, QC, 64.37; 6. Christa Wilson, W. Ont., 54.08; 7. Michelle Moore, W. Ont., 53.55; 8. Alesha Checkley, AB, 53.47; 9. Monica Boucher, AB, 52.94; 10. Lori Barber, C. Ont., 47.38; 11. Marie-Eve Lavigne, QC, 46.72; 12. Ashley Tataryn, C. Ont., 45.17; 13. Kimberlea Thomson, C. Ont., 43.50; 14. Marie Andree Rioux, QC, 43.05; 15. Vanessa Hunter, BC, 40.73; 16. Amanda Gilroy, E. Ont., 40.11; 17. Tanis Bruce, BC, 36.09; 18. Harmoine Wong, W. Ont., 35.20.
1. Joannie Rochette, QC, 109.41; 2. Mira Leung, BC, 88.84; 3. Myriane Samson, QC, 74.09; 4. Meagan Duhamel, N. Ont., 66.57; 5. Ashton Tessier, E. Ont., 66.46; 6. Vicky Boissonneault, QC, 65.31; 7. Hjordis Lee, BC, 62.48; 8. Courtney Sokal, AB, 58.56; 9. Lauren Wilson, W. Ont., 57.47; 10. Mylene Brodeur, QC, 56.69; 11. Daniela Cotesta, N. Ont., 56.13; 12. Pamela Morin, QC, 50.93; 13. Ashlea Jones, E. Ont., 49.52; 14. Giovanna Fiore, QC, 48.38; 15. Megan Smith, NS, 47.49; 16. Angie Phillips, QC, 46. 71; 17. Amy Hearder, NL, 43.68; 18. Mary Vickers, AB, 42.33; 19. Jillian MacCuspie, NS, 41.70; 20. Lindsay Irving, C. Ont., 38.08