Phaneuf wins short program

TERRY JONES

, Last Updated: 10:51 AM ET

SASKATOON -- When you see a Canadian female figure skater end up landing on both cheeks, the problem is almost always between her ears.

Mental toughness has long been in short supply in Canadian women's figure skating going back to, oh, 1948 when Barbara Ann Scott won the only Olympic gold medal for our nation in the sequined sport.

What happened here yesterday was evidence to that in two different directions, as one former Canadian champion said she finally got her head screwed on straight and the current champion suggested she's still got a couple of screws loose.

Five years ago Cynthia Phaneuf won the Canadian championship in Edmonton as a 15-year-old then proceeded to essentially disappear in the years which followed. Joannie Rochette took over and won four straight titles and came into the event this year looking like Canada could have a woman do at Vancouver 2010 what Liz Manley did at Calgary 1988.

BIRTHDAY GIRL

Phaneuf won the short program here yesterday on her 21st birthday.

"It just feels so good on my birthday. It's the best gift I could get," she said of out-pointing Rochette 55.16 to 53.58.

"I had to work on my head," she said. "I had to work on my head and my confidence. I was all stressed out. I wasn't able to use my stress well. Today I used it the right way."

Phaneuf ended up as one seriously screwed-up skater after winning Canadians in 2004 due Skate Canada's dumb decision to send end-of-her-career Jennifer Robinson to the world championships instead of her at such a young age.

"I can't change that now. But if I had gone, I'd have a lot more experience," she said.

And she might have been better able to deal some of the things that have happened to her since.

It's one thing to have your mind messed up, but when you have to deal with your body changing at the same time, good luck with that.

The problem with being a 15-year-old girl in figure skating is that your body is bound to change. And when that happens, as it happened to Phaneuf, it can take you right out of the picture.

"I missed a year when I grew up and stuff," is how she put it. "I had to learn how to skate again. I had to learn all the jumps all over again."

She admits she thought about quitting. "But I couldn't. I love figure skating too much. It was my life."

Now she thinks she's got it together and that she'll have her head screwed on straight going into today.

"I just want to be on the world team. I just want to go out and have fun on the ice like I just did," she said of the two spots available for the Los Angeles Worlds.

The story all season has been how Rochette has taken her skating to the next level with two wins on the Grand Prix circuit. She came here with expectations of excellence and didn't deliver for openers.

Popping her first jump and then falling on a Lutz, Rochette came to the media room trying to explain what happened.

"I don't know what was going through my mind on my first jump," she said of downgrading a double Axel into a single.

CHANGES COMING

Then she suggested her mind was messed up and she might have to make changes and drop the triple-triple combination from her short program before she gets to Worlds.

She looked to most like she landed her triple-triple but the judges didn't give her credit for completing the rotation on the triple-toe back end after the triple flip on the front.

"With the short program we might have to go back and make a change," she said of turning it into a triple-double.

"Maybe it's mental," she said. "I have to really think if I need the triple-triple. I'd rather skate a clear triple-double. I have to clear my mind. It's not physical.

"The program is well-trained. The hang up is the triple-triple. I've put too much emphasis on it. In the long program I can do six triple jumps. But in the short program ... it's the way I see the short in my head."


Videos

Photos