Rochette's medal hopes out of focus

ROB BRODIE -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:27 AM ET

CALGARY -- A moment of hesitation, she called it, an unexplainable blip in her focus.

And with it, the mathematics got decidedly more difficult for Joannie Rochette at the world figure skating championships.

Canada's hopes for its first women's medal at worlds in 18 years took a major hit when the short programs were presented yesterday before about 7,000 at the Pengrowth Saddledome.

Rochette, the leader after Wednesday's qualifying rounds, skidded to fifth overall thanks mostly to a double Axel -- the final scheduled jump of her Like A Prayer routine -- that inexplicably wound up being a single.

Now, after a seventh-place finish in the short, she might need a bit of divine intervention to work her way back on to the podium in this afternoon's free skate final.

How damaging was the gaffe?

A good guess would be about 3.5 points. In other words, the difference between Rochette being at least third and where she now stands, 2.98 points behind Kimmie Meissner of the U.S., who occupies the bronze-medal position (88.63).

American Sasha Cohen, who impressively won the short program, moved from fifth after qualifying into the lead (94.21). Fumie Suguri of Japan is second (94.21), followed by Meissner, Japan's Yuri Nakano (87.41) and Rochette (85.66).

''I can't tell you why,'' said the 20-year-old Ile-Dupas, Que., native, when asked about the botched Axel. ''It was just half-a-second in my head, a hesitating moment ... I can't explain it.''

''A lack of focus, for sure,'' said Manon Perron, Rochette's coach. ''She didn't go for it. For her, it was not a good performance.''

It wasn't nerves, Rochette insisted, even if she had to skate in the final flight for the first time at worlds, and right after Cohen laid down a beauty of a program.

''It was really hard to skate last,'' she said. ''I had that pressure, I prefer skating earlier, but that doesn't matter. You have to skate anyway.''

MORE IN THE TANK

Rochette knows there's still more in the tank for today's free skate. And that, she says, is more important than the medal chase.

''I'm capable of much more. I'm not thinking about (a medal). If I was 10th with a clean performance, I would be happier than if I was fifth with a mistake like (yesterday).''

While Rochette didn't show it, Perron smiled knowingly when asked if there's a quiet anger inside her skater about the mistake. She's convinced that's a good thing, given that Rochette is in a better place after the short than at the Turin Olympics, where she climbed four spots to a fifth-place finish with a strong free skate.

''Fire,'' Perron said when asked what Rochette will bring to the rink today. ''We're there. We're in fifth place and we have to deal with it. Nothing to lose, everything to gain.''

That's an attitude Cohen, whose only glaring error yesterday was a two-footed landing on her triple lutz, could use herself. Especially in the wake of her free skate implosion at the Turin Games after she built a solid lead in the short.

''It's nicer to be in first place, but I'm not going to take it too easy,'' said Cohen, 21, the Olympic and 2005 world silver medalist. ''I don't want to be tentative (today). I want to attack. I want to be artistic and fight for each element.''

But her coach offered up a rather telling appraisal.

''If she skates to her potential, she will win,'' said John Nicks. ''Everyone knows that. However ...''

rob.brodie@ott.sunpub.com


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