Phaneuf battles body

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:50 AM ET

HALIFAX -- Whatever happened to Cynthia Phaneuf, you may have wondered.

Three years and one week ago, she was a 5-ft. 3-in. wisp of a 15-year-old girl who shocked the skating world.

The day after Phaneuf won the 2004 Canadian Figure Skating Championship in Edmonton, she found herself in the middle of a national controversy.

Following her win, Skate Canada officials decided she was too young to send to the worlds and gave the spot Phaneuf earned to veteran Jennifer Robinson.

Yesterday, a 5-ft. 7-in. leggy woman who looked a little bit like Phaneuf skated out for warmups and fell again and again and again.

But somehow the all-grown-up Phaneuf, celebrating her 19th birthday, managed to get it together and win the qualifying competition to advance to the short program as nationals opened -- all after she'd been absent for 18 months.

Phaneuf followed her national title from Edmonton with a solid season: A win at Skate Canada, a second at Skate America and a sixth at the Grand Prix final. She placed second at nationals and 20th in her first world championship.

The following year, a knee injury, stress fractures to her ankle and hip -- all on her right landing side -- forced Phaneuf off skates.

She missed nationals and hadn't been seen since.

Her injuries were one thing but she went through her growth spurt at the same time.

"I've never seen that before. That was a first for me," said coach Annie Barabe after helping her skater through her ordeal yesterday.

"It was tough. It's always hard with injuries but when you're becoming a woman at the same time ...

"She was off skates for 10 months and then came back with a new body. When she came back and couldn't do a double Axel, she was doing singles. It was like she never had it before. When she started doing triples, they were all cheated, not coming all the way around. What your mind wants to do, your body has abandoned you."

Barabe said it was Phaneuf's mind that abandoned her in warmup yesterday.

"She didn't know what to do. She was doing all sorts of nervous stuff she never does, like slapping her leg, stuff she doesn't do at home," she said of the Contrecoeur, Que., skater.

"She had to take time to breathe. She knows she still doesn't have all the stuff."

Somehow, Phaneuf managed to pull herself together and skate a relatively clean and safe program with a degree of difficulty that is going to make it tough for her to get back on the podium this year.

This year, instead of forcing all the singles skaters to perform their long program twice -- once in front of nobody early in the week and again in the free-skate final -- the contenders sit and the pretenders compete for the other 12 spots in the short program.

Phaneuf was out there with all the pretenders.

Certainly, she's not pretending she's going to be a contender at these Canadians.

"I'm not here to compete with the other skaters," she said. "I don't have the triple loop and the triple flip.

"My body is fine. But it's a long time. I'm proud to be here.

"I'm feeling my body. My body is fine but it's my head now. It's a hard thing. But I'm very proud of what I did.

"I told myself I don't want to stop competing. And here I am. That's why I am proud."

Cynthia Phaneuf is back. Sort of.


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