Winning ugly

TERRY JONES, EDMONTON SUN

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

HALIFAX -- Should Mira Leung be the Canadian Figure Skating Champion today?

Should Emanuel Sandhu be so far down the standings he should have to buy a ticket to get into the men's short program tonight?

Didn't work out that way.

Joannie 'Rocket' Rochette won her third straight Canadian Figure Skating Championship here last night and Sandhu remains in contention.

Leung skated the lights out, landing six triple jumps - two more than Rochette who blew three triples and popped a double Axel.

Leading by a mere 4.39 over Leung after the short program, the judges gave her enough points to win 170.65 to 159.59 in the complicated new scoring system.

Leung was so happy to skate so great and punch her ticket, along with Rochette, for the Tokyo Worlds, it didn't seem to matter.

Only two Canadians go to Worlds in the women's event, while three will take the trip in men's.

"I haven't had that great a skate in I don't know how long,'' said Leung, the 17-year-old from Vancouver, who shattered her personal best in the long program.

WORK PAID OFF

"I'm just really happy all the hard work paid off,'' added the skater who was fired by her coach, Joanne McLeod, in a tough love move going into this season only to return in time for Canadians.

"I hope to be a world champion in the next few years,'' Leung declared.

Rochette was just happy to get out of Dodge.

"This was definitely the hardest to win,'' she said of the three. "I could feel it, the newcomers coming on. I'm just glad it's over.''

Was she worried, after the mistakes she made, that she might not get the marks?

"Yes,'' she said. "After the mistakes I was nervous.''

Cynthia Phaneuf, the 2004 Canadian champion on the comeback trail after missing 18 months due to injuries and major body changes while she was out, finished fourth and made the national team along with Lesley Hawker of Ontario, who was third, and rising star Myriane Samson of Quebec.

"I made a pretty good comeback,'' said Phaneuf, who still doesn't have all her jumps back. "I'm happy.''

Sandhu, looking like a florescent lime Popsicle, suffered his latest mental meldown in the men's short program earlier in the day.

A crowd of 4,241 booed Sandhu's propped-up marks. But a couple minutes later a young skater who could be a fresh flavour for the future wowed the crowd and was paid off with a standing ovation.

Could we have a new champion here today?

Maybe Mabee?

Or maybe not.

Tilsonburg, Ont. skater Christopher Mabee put himself in position to finish first if something goes wrong with Olympic silver medallist Jeff Buttle's re-entry.

"It's always been in my head and I'm very close right now,'' said the 21-year-old who went from ninth to sixth to fifth to fourth in the previous four trips to Canadians.

"I had an absolute blast out there tonight,'' said Mabee.

He had a personal best 75.68 to finish second to Buttle's 78.85 as the two-time champion from Smooth Rock Falls, Ont. returned from injury to compete for the first time this year.

Buttle was happy enough with his return to competition, everything considered.

"For a first competition, it felt really good,'' he said of a spinal stress fracture which forced him to miss the entire Grand Prix season.

Mabee, who would be happy just to finish on the podium and make it to his first World Figure Skating Championships, was over the moon.

"I've done a lot of work on mental toughness after the Cup of Russia. Tonight I went out there knowing I can do it rather than thinking I can. ''

Sandhu is back a bunch at 65.21, despite the judges' best efforts on his behalf.

Falling on his quad on the front end of his combination and popping his triple Axel, Sandhu talked himself out of another one.

"As I went into the Axel, I was hearing myself say 'Take it!' I thought 'Why am I saying that?' It was another learning lesson.''

A lot of fans left here last night feeling both Sandhu and the judges will never learn.


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