Her way or highway

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:29 AM ET

HALIFAX -- Mira Leung looked like God's gift to coach Joanne McLeod for putting up with Emanuel Sandhu all these years.

So why did McLeod stay with no-can-do Sandhu and fire her rising star at the start of the figure skating season?

And what brought them back together?

It usually works the other way in this sport. The athlete hires and fires the coach. Pays them, too.

But McLeod sacked her star. Gave her the boot. Gave her an apple and a road map.

The one kid who looked like she could climb into contention to be a home-made golden girl at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games, was ditched by her Vancouver-based coach.

"Sometimes the best way to deliver a message when they don't want to listen is to say goodbye," McLeod said last night of dumping her prize prospect.

It's called tough love.

"My door was always open for her to come back," said McLeod.

That's what happened.

BACK TOGETHER

Coach and skater were back together again here last night and the 17-year-old put together a personal best in a dramatically different short program to what we've watched before.

"We had some disagreements in what Joanne wanted me to do," said Leung. "There were certain things we didn't agree on. She was wanting things somewhat different."

The Vancouver high school student who is an accomplished pianist and designs computer web pages when she isn't doing axels and salchows, started the season with Christine McBeth as coach. But after two unimpressive events on the Grand Prix circuit in the fall, Leung came back to McLeod, willing to make the serious changes to her look and approach for the next four years leading to the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games.

"We had a discussion and it ended," said McLeod of the relationship. "We had two different theories of where we should be going."

They didn't go immediately to the top here yesterday, but the personal best in the short program left Leung third, behind back-to-back title winner 21-year-old Joannie 'Rocket' Rochette and 25-year-old Lesley Hawker after the short program at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships.

Rochette's 56.89 has her in first heading into tonight's free skate final. Ontario's Hawker sits second at 53.57, also a personal best. Leung is third at 52.50, Quebec's Myriane Samson fourth at 51.94 and former Canadian champion Cynthia Phaneuf, returning to competition after an 18-month absence, sits fifth at 49.67 despite not doing a combination jump.

YOUNGEST MEMBER

Leung, the youngest member of the Canadian figure skating Olympic team last year in Torino, finished fifth at Canadians in 2004, third in '05 and second last year.

She was 12th at the Torino Olympics and 13th at the Worlds in Calgary. But to put herself in position to be able to put herself on a podium in Vancouver, McLeod wanted Leung to assume a dramatically different look.

"Joanne wanted me to understand on my own," is how Leung put it.

"It was all about a quadrennial plan," said McLeod of the next four years.

"Coming back from the Olympics and Worlds, it was 'Where do we go from here?'

"She wanted to do A-B-C-D-E and I wanted to go a different way."

Leung, who has had a very serious look to her until this point, showed up wearing a pink outfit and skating to Pink Panther music and even playing to the judges panel at the end of her routine.

"I'm glad Joanne and I made the decision to do a new short program," Leung said when she came off the ice.

"I like how this program takes me to a completely different style. I've been a dramatic skater. Joanne wanted me to do something that was completely out of character."

All part of the journey.


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