Going national is enough for local

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 11:51 AM ET

Annie-Claire Bergeron-Oliver got a taste of the bright lights of figure skating's big show this week.

She emerged from it with some key building blocks for her future.

The tall, slender 16-year-old from the Minto Skating Club achieved her goal of a top-10 finish at her first Canadian figure skating championships, winding up seventh following yesterday's junior women's free skate final at the Civic Centre.

"There were a couple of little things I could have done better that would have put me up higher," said Bergeron-Oliver after her skate. "But it was not bad for my first nationals."

Bergeron-Oliver bypassed another trip to the Skate Canada Junior Nationals by making the jump straight from pre-novice to junior. That meant making her Canadians debut right at home in Ottawa, where she's a Grade 11 student at Ashbury College.

"It's cool," said Bergeron-Oliver, an 'A' student. "All my friends are here, I get homemade stuffed bears (thrown on the ice after she skates). It's neat having that many people rooting for you. It gives you a boost."

She also had the experience of seeing herself on a large video board while she skated, and rubbing shoulders with the best in Canada. All things that should help her if she qualifies for Canadians next year in Halifax.

"For next year, it'll give me an edge over some other people," she said. "I know I can skate in front of the bright lights and cameras and more people (in the stands).

"It's not like junior nationals. I can walk down the hall here and talk to (two-time Canadian champ) Joannie Rochette. I see all the idols I've been watching since I was a little girl. This gives me the feeling that I'm getting in the same league as them and getting closer to my goals."

Bergeron-Oliver finished with a 96.03 overall point total, including 61.12 for the short program. Mandy Valentine of the Nepean Skating Club placed 10th (93.74), while clubmate Brooke Paulin was 18th (80.41).

The gold went to Watford's Dianne Szmiett, with Stefani Marotta of Markham (silver) and Vancouver's Devon Neuls (bronze) filling out the podium.

Valentine couldn't repeat as a junior medalist -- she won bronze in London last year -- but landed the first two triple loops of her career.

She'll build on that next season, when she moves up to senior. She hopes to add a triple lutz, triple flip and triple-triple combinations to her arsenal by then.

"It was a little disappointing. I didn't skate as well as I would have liked to," said Valentine, 15. "But I'm proud of myself. I tried my best.

"It's been a rough season (with injuries). But I've never given up and I don't plan on it anytime soon. I'm going to keep giving it my best."

Paulin's season isn't done. She and novice pairs partner Nathan Last are off to junior nationals Feb.1-4 in Moncton, N.B.

"It's pretty special (to go to two nationals)," she said.

AT A GLANCE

- What: Canadian figure skating championships.

- Where: Civic Centre.

- Today's events: Senior free dance, 10:30 a.m.; Parade of Champions, 3 p.m.

- Tickets: Ticketmaster, 755-1111, or www.ticketmaster.ca.

rob.brodie@ott.sunpub.com


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