Rocket to ride

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:04 PM ET

CALGARY -- Canada needs a rocket to ride.

So says Kurt Browning. And he thinks it might be Rocket Rochette.

Browning dodged the question when asked what he thought of Canadian men's skaters Jeffrey Buttle and Emanuel Sandhu.

"Canada needs a breakthrough person to pull everyone with them,'' he said, and then suggested it could be Joannie Rochette.

"I don't want to say it's Joannie, but, wow. I mean ... I've been impressed by her physicality. Usually when I practice with her it's 'Did you see how big that jump was?' or 'Did you see how fast she skated by?'

"That's not what I was thinking when I saw her in qualifying. All that was there but it was melded so nicely with a maturity. I'm becoming a bigger fan every day.''

The Rocket could be the rocket.

"Sometimes that one person sucks everyone else along with them. You ride that wave.''

It isn't, he suggested by his answer, going to be Jeffrey Buttle. It isn't going to be Emanuel Sandhu. But it might be Rochette.

"When I went to Worlds my first year I thought I was better than a lot of others because I was Canadian. I had Brian Orser before me. I just assumed the judges and everyone else were going to show me respect because I was Brian Orser's teammate. That mentality was huge. In Budapest I knew I was going to land that quad. I hung out with Brian that afternoon on purpose. He was shopping for vases. Who wants to do that? But I hung out with Brian Orser because I just wanted that energy.''

There are many who think 16-year-old Mira Leung of Vancouver will be the next superstar Canadian skater, the star we haven't really had since Barbara Ann Scott won Olympic gold and two world championships in the late '40s, although Petra Burka in 1965 and Karen Magnussen in 1973 both won world titles.

But Leung needs a rocket to ride and the big question going in to today's free skate final at the World Figure Skating Championships is if Joanne Rochette will be able to begin to be her Brian Orser.

It wasn't a really good day, Cape Kennedy-wise, for Canada here yesterday.

Rochette, who finished a phenomenal fifth at her first Olympics and led after the qualifying competition, popped her triple Axel to go from first to fifth.

POPPED THE AXEL

Leung, in her first Worlds after finishing 12th in her Olympic debut, also popped the Axel. She dropped from ninth to 14th. Even with the new scoring system, single-rotating a jump in the short program costs you big time.

While Browning is viewed by many to have been the greatest singles skater ever, men are men and women are always the story and the glory.

Women's figure skating traditionally is the centre ring of the five ring circus, the one event which draws the largest television numbers. And it's been a long time since Canada has had a success with the women.

It was right here, on the same ice, at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games when Elizabeth Manley won silver. It was three weeks later that year when she repeated the feat, winning silver at Worlds in Budapest. No Canadian woman has scaled either podium since.

Today Rochette is close enough to still be able to manufacture a medal. But yesterday was a setback.

'I'M SAD'

"Of course I'm sad,'' she said when she came off the ice with 85.66 points in the event led by American Sasha Cohen at 94.21.

"I'm capable of much more. I've been skating very good in practice. I don't remember missing a jump since I arrived here.''

With Fumie Suguri of Japan at 90.59, Kimmie Meissner at 88.63 and Yukari Makano of Japan at 87.41, fifth place sounds worse than where she actually sits. She has a solid shot at bronze and a decent shot at silver.

"The result is still very good,'' said the 20-year-old from Ile Dupas, Que.

"Now I have to skate a great long program. I'm not letting myself down. I just want to finish this season on a great note.

"I felt good out there. Even if I missed my jump, I was able to enjoy my performance. I was able to relax even though I was skating right after Sasha.''

Considering the history of Canada's women at Worlds since Manley, it's hard to be critical. It was the first time she'd ever skated in the final flight with the big girls. She wasn't in the final flight at the Olympics.

She'll be back with the top six skaters, skating third last instead of very last - a position she likes much better.

"That was really hard to skate last because I knew that everyone in the final warmup at Worlds is going to skate good. I had that pressure. I prefer skating earlier, but that doesn't matter. You have to skate anyway.

"I didn't feel affected by the stress. I felt really good on the ice.''

There's only one way to get experience and the skater who was 11th at Worlds last year in Moscow just got some.

Tenth after the short program at the Olympics, Joannie Rochette goes into the final flight today with some rocket fuel.


Videos

Photos