Rochette queen of the ice

ROB BRODIE, Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:20 AM ET

LONDON, ONT. -- As Joannie Rochette weaved a magical spell over 7,222 entranced onlookers at the John Labatt Centre last night, an indelible Canadian memory leaped to mind. Calgary. The 1998 Olympics. And the time of Elizabeth Manley's skating life.

No Canadian woman has ever lived such a dream week at a figure skating competition.

Until now. Until the remarkable display Rochette, a 19-year-old surely destined for greatness, laid down at the Canadian figure skating championships this week.

World, take notice. Canada has a major player on the global scene again, and the best part is, she's only just begun.

"I don't know if it's a message I was sending others," said an elated Rochette after she crushed the competition for her first Canadian senior women's title. "I skated this for myself (last) night ... I can't explain how good I felt.

"This means one of my career goals is achieved now ... It's something they can never take away from me."

You thought she was great in Thursday's short program?

Little did we know Rochette was just giving us a peek at where she's headed.

In a skate that ranks right up there with the best ever seen on Canadian soil, Rochette ripped off seven triple jumps with a powerful display. Even a triple lutz she landed too close to the boards to prevent finishing a combination didn't faze her -- she merely inserted the double toe loop onto the back end of her second lutz 90 seconds later.

Rochette had them on their feet a full 15 seconds before her wonderful Firebird routine was finished.

The 123.12 points she received from the judges was 10 points clear of her previous personal best.

SHOWDOWN A ROUT

Her 211.38 total was nearly 40 points better than silver-medal winner and defending champ Cynthia Phaneuf. The showdown was a complete and utter rout.

"This was my goal, to come here and do a perfect program.," said the Ile-Dupas, Que., native. "I had a lot of pressure coming here after finishing third at the (Grand Prix) final, and there were a lot of expectations ... I'm just so, so happy I could do this. I feel relieved now."

That might better describe the emotions of Phaneuf, who fought back tears after a miserable free skate in which she landed only one triple jump. The edge she held over delightful Vancouver teen Mira Leung -- who claimed the bronze medal after landing six triples in her free skate -- coming into the free skate certainly came in handy. It means Phaneuf will join Rochette at the world championships in March in Moscow.

"That's the most important thing," said Phaneuf, 17, of Sorel-Tracy, Que., who totalled 171.37 points. "I've dreamed about that for a long time.

"I just don't know what happened. I lost my focus (last night) and that was terrible."

The 15-year-old Leung, who scored 156.39 overall, deserved a better fate in some eyes.

"Maybe I should have been higher (than Phaneuf) in the long program," she said. "I don't feel cheated that she won over me (overall)."

DISMAL START TO YEAR

But it is Rochette everyone went home talking about. After starting the season with a dismal effort at a provincial event in Montreal and splitting with longtime coach Manon Perron, an amazing thing happened.

Joannie Rochette grew up right before our eyes. The shy young girl who showed such promise by winning Canadian novice (in 2000) and junior (2001) titles is now a confident young woman ready to challenge the world's best.

"I never doubted my abilities," said Rochette. "Emotionally, this was a tough year, starting in tears ... But this whole thing made me much more stronger now."

rob.brodie@ott.sunpub.com


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