Queen of the ice castle

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 7:37 AM ET

HALIFAX -- She's the old pro now.

The grizzled old veteran.

OK, maybe not so grizzled.

Joannie 'Rocket' Rochette turned 21 Saturday and heads into the Olympic quadrennial to Vancouver 2010 here this week as the queen of the castle.

It is a castle which is going to be under siege from 17-year-old Mira Leung and 18-year-old Cynthia Phaneuf for the next four years.

"The Olympics are a long ways away in terms of years, but I feel like it's coming quickly and I don't want to lose a minute," says Rochette.

"You have to keep up or the girls will pass you.

EXPECTATIONS

"It's harder now. I've won it before and everybody expects that I'll win it again," added the back-to-back Canadian figure skating champion, who goes for the three-peat here this week.

"You have to stay ahead of your competition every year. You have to stay on top.

"This is where you come to find out where the competition is and where the girls are taking it."

Who knows how it will work heading to Vancouver 2010?

Maybe the three will push each other to the top of the world.

No Canadian singles skater has been able to win gold at the Olympics since Barbara Ann Scott in 1948.

Could there be a better story for Canada in the sport than a female skater winning gold in the event?

It is an event which, despite the judges scandal of Salt Lake 2002, remains television's centre ring of the five-ring circus at the Olympic Winter Games.

THE STORYLINE ...

While the men's division has been the focus of Canadian figure skating from Brian Orser to Kurt Browning to Elvis Stojko to Jeff Buttle - with a time out for Sale & Pelletier in pairs - suddenly the storyline is expected to shift to the women for the first time since Karen Magnussen was around.

"I know there is going to be a lot of attention," said Rochette, who packed a new Sandra Bezic program in her suitcase to bring here and plans to produce a triple-triple jump in the short program for the first time.

"I don't think four years is that long.

"I have a lot to work on.

"Definitely the competition is tough. They're young and improving.

"For me it's a matter of, every year, continuing to improve, too.

"My goal is to become a complete skater and improve on everything."

Rochette says the first thing she has to do is win her third straight Canadian championship.

That's to show she wants to stay queen of the castle.

The Rocket, who won the Skate Canada Grand Prix event, says to her, the countdown to Vancouver 2010 starts here.

"It's more special than a Grand Prix event for me. It's big. And I'm defending a championship. Winning three in a row is very important to me.

"I want to challenge myself with it. I'd like, maybe, to go for Jennifer Robinson's record one day," she said of the six Canadian titles Robinson won in her time on top.

DIDN'T MATCH IT

However, Robinson did not once match Rochette's fifth place at the Olympics on the world stage.

Rochette picked up the name Rocket that came more from her speed on the ice.

Her predecessor Robinson skated in super-slow motion, especially when setting up the Lutz.

The Rocket has been slow and steady in her rise to stardom.

She was third at Canadians in 2002, moved up to second in '03 and '04 and then won the title the last two years.

In terms of Worlds, she's finished 17th, 11th, eighth and seventh last year.

That was a month after she finished fifth at Torino 2006.

A STEP AT A TIME

"I have been one step at a time and stayed pretty consistent in improving. But I don't think of things like that when I go into competition," she said.

"I go to win."

It's nice to have a girl like that.

For years, Canada has had an endless run of girls who just wanted to look pretty and skate on television.


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