Stars in the making

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:32 AM ET

LONDON, Ont. -- A Rocket was launched and hope was hatched.

With arguably the greatest performance in the history of Canadian female figure skating, Joannie 'Rocket' Rochette gave the sport someone to sell again.

But did anything else really happen here to give Canada hope to achieve the four-medal prediction of Skate Canada CEO Pam Coburn for next year's combination of Torino Olympics and Calgary Worlds? Yes. And no.

A nattering nabob of negativism would point out the following:

- We saw the same gutless wonder popping triple Axels and quads, which was Emanuel Sandhu at last year's Worlds.

- We have a new champion in Jeffery Buttle, but he doesn't have a quad and admits he's going to Worlds in Moscow in March with "a goal of being in the top six."

- Cynthia Phaneuf didn't come anywhere close to doing what she did last year and because she wasn't sent to Worlds last year when she won the Canadian title as a 15-year-old, she's going there with no experience a year later.

- Canada's highest-ranked pairs team internationally, Edmonton-based Anabelle Langlois & Patrice Archetto, didn't even make the world team.

- And when the Lyon, France-based dance team Marie-France Dubreuil & Patrice Lauzon collected their third Canadian title in dance here yesterday, there was no dancing in the streets.

WHERE IS THE OTHER MEDAL?

Off this form chart, Rochette will have to duplicate a near-perfect seven triple skate at Worlds. And where, exactly, is the other medal of the two Coburn projects for Moscow in March going to come from?

Oh, Canada should dramatically improve off last year's Worlds, where this nation broke a 22-year-run of putting people on the podium and, worse, didn't have anybody in the top seven for the first time in over half a century. No doubt about that.

But Coburn, in the annual post-event press conference to officially name the world team, insists this was a turning-point Canadians. And she is not revising any of her projection/prediction/guarantees.

"We are very much on target for the goals we set for 2006," she said.

"This has been just a great week. We've seen some amazing skating. We now have some healthy rivalries to take into the 2005 Worlds and beyond.

"Looking only at the points total for the short program and long program combined, Rochette had the highest-rated performance this year in the world," she said.

SECOND-HIGHEST TOTAL

"Buttle scored the second-highest points total in the world," she added. "Their numbers say they are on the podium this year at Worlds in Moscow."

You could call Rochette's numbers a world record. But how meaningful is it when this is the first year using the system and the Americans and Russians, to name two countries, didn't use it at their national championships?

At this point it's probably a glass-half-full/glass-half-empty sort of debate.

But one thing there's very little debate about after these Canadian championships is the young talent coming into the system. It is very good news for Vancouver 2010 where the Canadian Olympic Association has figure skating down for three of the 35-medal goal.

"One of the big stories here has to be all these junior-age eligible skaters populating the senior ranks," she said. "We had 15 junior-age eligible skaters in the senior women's final, to name one example."

Canada is playing host to the Junior Worlds in Kitchener, Ont., Feb. 28 to March 6 and there's every chance of the Canadian kids putting themselves on the international radar screen then and there.

"We have a realistic shot at winning medals in every discipline," said Gayle McClelland, the chief athlete development officer of Skate Canada. "It's one of the strongest teams we've been able to send to Junior Worlds in a number of years. All our skaters are able to compete with the best in the world."

Canada may be down, but with Rocket Rochette and the talent on the way, hope was definitely hatched here.


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