Rochette rockets to top

RYAN PYETTE, Free Press Sports Reporter

, Last Updated: 11:23 AM ET

There's not much more to say other than, 'Bravo, Jo.' Joannie Rochette, who came to London this week craving her first national senior figure skating title, soared in her firebird-themed long program, reduced her rivalry with upstart Cynthia Phaneuf to rubble and left no doubt as to the identity of the best women's figure skater in the country.

This "Rocket" is for real. The high-flying 19-year-old from Ile-Dupas, Que., landed a mind-boggling seven triples to a deafening roar from a fired-up crowd of 7,222 last night at the John Labatt Centre.

She becomes the first Canadian women's skater to win the senior, junior (2001) and novice titles (2000) and pumped her right fist in triumph after her music stopped. It was one of the more stunning performances by a Canadian woman with everything on the line at a national championship.

"It's exciting. I'm very happy. I didn't feel nervous at all like the first two skates (short program and qualifying)," Rochette said. "It was a dream for the past year to win nationals. Last year (finishing second in Edmonton to Phaneuf) was bittersweet. I felt bad about the short program and then the long program, I felt, was like a waste.

"But this year, I came here to win. It was a dream. I had a 10-point lead after the short. It was comfortable but I didn't want to leave anything out there."

She didn't. Rochette piled up a bulky 211.28 points while Phaneuf, who struggled with her triple Lutz all week in practice and competition, showed less than a minute into her program that her title reign was over. She settled for 171.37 points and had to bite her fingernails for the final three skaters to see if she would finish top two and make Canada's worlds team.

Last year, the 15-year-old surprise champ Phaneuf gave up her worlds spot (it went to now-retired Jennifer Robinson) to focus on junior worlds.

But with Olympics only a year away, the trip to Moscow this March for worlds is considered vital.

"I was worried too much about where people were going (in warmup) and not enough about myself," the 17-year-old Sorel-Tracy skater said. "The most important thing is to make worlds. Since last year, I have dreamed of that."

In the end, Phaneuf made it with a comfortable 15-point lead over B.C.'s Mira Leung. But Canadian hopes at worlds and other international events this year rest with Rochette.

Her performance in London this week was an affirmation that her longtime former coach Manon Perron made the right decision to let her go to another club. Rochette is now coached by Josee Normand and Sebastien Britten.

Her only glitch last night was getting too close to the end boards on her opening triple-Lutz, triple-toe combo. No matter -- she added it later in the program and was perfect.

"I believe it is the best (week) I've had," she said. "But it's just a beginning. There's more I want to achieve at the worlds. I want to skate well the rest of the season."

If she skates like she did this week, the rest of the world better watch out.

Lauren Wilson of London placed 14th in the free skate, slipping from ninth to 14th overall in the final standings with 112.08 points.

Earlier, Delhi native Michael Coreno and partner Allie Hann-McCurdy boogied their way to a national silver medal in junior dance.

Coreno, a 20-year-old who trains at the Mariposa school in Barrie, first teamed up with Hann-McCurdy in May 2002. They had 152.64 points, finishing behind Ottawa's Siobhan Karam-Joshua McGrath team (160.56), who were third at the last two junior nationals.

The junior dance has produced a Southwestern Ontario link at five of the last six Canadians.

London's Tessa Virtue and Ilderton's Scott won in 2004, Embro's Brian Innes partnered with Mylene Girard for gold in 2002 and silver in 2000 with Thamesford's Kristy MacCabe and Ilderton's Sheri and Danny Moir were second in 2001 and third in 2000.


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