Rush for Rochette

SHANE ROSS

, Last Updated: 8:59 AM ET

Joannie Rochette says she's been training harder than ever before, and it showed yesterday when she posted a personal-best score in her short program to lead the women's competiton at Skate Canada International at Scotiabank Place.

Dressed in pink, her blond hair tied in a ponytail with a matching pink ribbon, the four-time Canadian champ performed a near-flawless routine to Summertime, choreographed by former world ice dance champion Shae-Lynne Bourne.

When it was over, she stood at centre ice, beaming, and waved to the afternoon crowd of 3,500 as they leapt to their feet for a standing ovation.

"I felt really relaxed out there," said Rochette, 22. "I've been training the best I've ever been, and I'm very happy that judges saw a difference in me."

7-POINT LEAD

They sure did. Her 64.74 beat her previous best by 4.5 points and gives her an almost seven-point lead over Fumie Suguri of Japan heading into tonight's free skate.

Caroline Zhang of the U.S., at 15 the youngest skater competing this weekend, is third after a performance that showed off the flexibility that has made her a YouTube sensation.

The two other Canadians in the women's event, Cynthia Phaneuf of Contrecoeur, Que., and Myriane Samson, who trains with Rochette in Montreal, are ninth and 12th.

"I don't have any confidence on the ice. I don't trust my edges," said Phaneuf, the 2004 Canadian champion who sat out the 2005-06 season recovering from injuries. "(My coach) asked, 'Why is your comeback so difficult?' and I was like, 'It's not difficult, I had to work on it when I was a little girl so I still have to work on it.' "

World champion Mao Asada of Japan is not competing, leaving silver medallist Caroline Kostner of Italy as the top-ranked skater. But the 21-year-old fell twice and sits in seventh.

IN TEARS

"It happens and it's a good experience, I guess," she said, fighting back tears. "You always fight until the end, it was just stupid. I am really sure the day will come when all the work will be paid back. It's the belief in your strength and the passion for figure skating that brings you back every time."

Meanwhile, Rochette, who finished fifth at the worlds last year, was on cloud nine as she watched the men's program last night. Afterward, she planned to go back to her hotel with her parents and perhaps study for the biology exam she has on Wednesday.

"I so excited," she said. "It's really important to make an impact in the first competition of the year."


Videos

Photos