Rocket launched!

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 11:19 AM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- One small step for Joannie Rochette. One large leap for Canadian figure skating? Rocket Rochette blasted off to her future with an out-of-this-world performance for a teenage female skater from Canada as she won her first national title here last night.

"This is only a little step for me,'' said the just-turned 19-year-old.

"This is just the beginning of a higher level, I hope. I have very high goals for the future. My goals are world championships and Olympics. This gives me more confidence.

"It's one of the goals I had ahead of me. It's something they'll never be able to take away from me. I have many others.''

Rochette just beamed as it started to sink in that she'd become the new champion and did it with a near-perfect performance to complete a dream week. "It feels so good,'' she said. "My goal was to come here and skate a perfect program. It felt so great skating. I've done good performances before but what was different tonight was that I felt so relaxed.''

Well, until the end, at least.

The near-sellout of 7,222 stood and cheered her home in the four minute free skate final.

"I got excited before the end of my program. I knew I'd achieved my goal.''

It was over before it began.

Rochette skated first in the final flight and skated out the lights. Her only real flaw was not having room near the boards to do the back end of what was supposed to be a triple Lutz-triple toe combination. That was 43 seconds into the free skate final.

SHOWED MATURITY

Two minutes and six seconds in she had another triple Lutz planned and the 19-year-old who finished eighth in the world last year, showed the maturity to add the missed triple toe there to create the combination she was unable to put together earlier.

In the end she nailed seven triple jumps - five more than Jennifer Robinson won Canadians with one year - and scored 123.12 points for the long program to end up with 211.28 from the new judging system being used for the first time at a national championships.

"It's the first time I've been able to do it over three programs,'' she said of nailing everything going back to Monday.

The great match-up against Cynthia Phaneuf, who won the title last year as a 15-year-old, was a mis-match. Phaneuf came unraveled as she followed Rochette's act, falling twice, touching down twice and landing only one triple jump. "I don't know what happened. I was terrible. My goal was to go to Worlds and I accomplished that goal, but ...''

LUCKY TO GET THERE

The two have given Canada hopes for a podium position at Worlds in Moscow in March.

But Phaneuf has to consider herself lucky to get there. Under the old judging system, she'd have been staying home.

Another 15-year-old, Mira Leung, of Vancouver, burst on to the scene with a bronze medal, landing six triples in doing so.

She eliminated any judging controversy by saying she wasn't cheated.

"I thought I should have been placed ahead of her in the long program, but I don't feel cheated because even if I beat her today, she would have been placed ahead of me because of the lead she had after the short program and the technical challenge.''

Phaneuf ended up with 171.37 points, Leung with 159.39 and 18-year-old Amanda Billings of Calgary also put herself on the radar screen by finishing fourth with 146.33.

Canada hasn't had a female skater on the podium at Worlds since Liz Manley in 1988. Both can't wait. "If I skate this well at the world championships I'm going to be very, very happy,'' said Rochette.

Pheneuf is just happy to be going and she can't skate worse than she did here last night.

When she won last year in Edmonton, Skate Canada decided she was too young to handle the Worlds. If it had worked out that her fright night here last night had cost her a chance to compete at the world championships again, she would have been devastated.

And Skate Canada would have been in a jackpot. With Leung a 15-year-old, she said she wouldn't have let them talk her out of going to Worlds, no way. "I'd have said yes,'' she said.


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