Rocket blasts off

ANGELA MACISAAC -- Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 8:37 AM ET

Joannie Rochette isn't just a solid science student, she's good with numbers, too.

After finishing fifth overall at the Olympics last month, she knows she stands a very good chance of standing on the worlds podium in the absence of Olympic gold medallist Shizuka Arakawa of Japan and bronze medallist Irina Slutskaya of Russia.

"I am not a fool," said Rochette, who is taking a couple of post-secondary courses and loves chemistry. "I know that five minus two equals three.

"I know it is possible but I am not focusing on that at all."

Rochette turned in a personal-best 117.12 in yesterday morning's qualifying Group B at the world figure skating championships at the Saddledome.

It's the first time in the seven-year history of qualifying rounds a Canadian woman has won her group.

Yukari Nakano of Japan was second at 111.12, while Emily Hughes of the U.S. was third at 102.72. The top 15 in each of two groups make the cut for tomorrow's short program. The qualifying score accounts for about 20% of each skater's total score.

Rochette landed three combination jumps and hit a grand total of six clean triples, stumbling on the loop landing early in her program.

That grated on her nerves.

"I can do that (jump) since I was 14 or 15," the 20-year-old from Ile Dupas, Que., said. "There is not a reason to miss that. I just have to keep my focus and do better.

"Even if there were two mistakes, I am very happy because I skated my personal best."

Her coach, Manon Perron, said the qualifying program was better than Rochette's free skate at the Olympics, where her fifth was the best Canadian women's result since Elizabeth Manley's silver medal at the 1988 Calgary Winter Games.

"She was ready again," Perron said. "It's been a long year but each time she finds the energy she needs."

Rochette landed six clean triples in Turin, more than any of the medallists, including second-place Sasha Cohen of the U.S., who earned 110.36 in last night's qualifying group.

Rochette, who has her sights set on the 2010 Games in Vancouver, could have taken the qualifying round a bit lighter but wanted to land all those triples for herself.

"It's important for confidence," she said. "My goal is to do the jumps, especially the second Lutz, because I popped it in Turin."

As bubbly off-ice as she is graceful on, Rochette is skating in memory of a 14-year-old friend, who died in a car accident while she was in Turin.

And she's also feeling the magic of Calgary, not only where Manley earned her silver but also where Karen Magnusson won her world title in 1972 and Barbara Ann Scott won the 1948 national title, after winning Olympics and worlds. The 'Dome is also where Rochette won her first national title, in the novice division in 2000.

"There have been so many Canadians do so well here in Calgary and I have done well here, too," she said, grinning.


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