Rochette proves herself

TERRY JONES, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 2:18 PM ET

SASKATOON -- You could see the Rocket's red glare.

Joannie 'Rocket' Rochette was faced with the challenge of proving to the world that she's got guts, that she's got intestinal fortitude and mental toughness and isn't like all those other weak-willed Canadian female figure skaters over the years.

"It was not an easy thing after yesterday. But I showed I was much stronger mentally than I ever thought. That was important for me," said the 23-year-old Ile Dupas, Que., competitor who won her fifth Canadian title in a much more meaningful way that she won the first four.

"I never had to win one like this before," she said.

Rochette had to prove that she has become the real deal this year. She had to show that she really has become a skater who could do for Canada at Vancouver 2010 what Liz Manley did at Calgary 1988.

NAILED JUMPS

It was, in the words of Sarah Palin, time to "git 'r done." Rochette put up her season's best score in the long program, landing seven triple jumps, and essentially lighting the piano on fire and leaving the stage telling short program winner Cynthia Phaneuf to follow that act!

"I put myself in the toughest position in which I've ever had to skate," said Rochette.

"I knew I could do this.

"I didn't doubt that I could come back.

"I just told myself 'Forget about the short program.'

"Here was a wake-up call," she said about allowing her mind to melt Friday.

"I proved I'm a competitor," she said. "I'm really, really proud of myself.

"I was shaking before I skated. I'm happy I showed myself I could do it no matter what.

"I proved I'm on the right track.

"I know it's a matter of what my head thinks. Maybe I have to give myself time. I just so bad want to make it to the podium at Worlds. I want to make it happen."

Rochette, nicknamed Rocket after Montreal Canadiens Maurice 'Rocket' Richard, famed for his red glare, but also nicknamed because of her speed and the complete contrast to slow skaters such as seven-time Canadian champion Jennifer Robinson before her, didn't have the option of pulling the parachute.

She skated second last with Phaneuf, who won the Canadian title before her as a 15-year-old in 2004 in Edmonton, waiting in the wings.

And Phaneuf couldn't follow that act.

"It was difficult to skate after Joannie," said the Contrecoeur, Que., skater who returned to the podium after a long battle back from body change problems and issues which she said had been mostly in her head, made a major mess of it after an excellent skate the day before.

She fell on three jumps. Another two were flawed.

As much of a mess of it as she made, Phaneuf left the rink with a smile on her face, too.

The 15-year-old girl Skate Canada left off the world championship team the year she won the title, finally gets to go to the event. A day after her 21st birthday, she showed enough here to get the trip she was denied by a dumb decision to replace her with an end-of-her-career Robinson.

OFF TO L.A.

New CEO William Thompson and high performance director Michael Slipchuk announced on the spot yesterday that Rochette and Phaneuf had been picked to go to Worlds in Los Angeles to try deliver Canada three spots for the Vancouver Olympics.

"We decided we wanted to reserve the right to make some decisions next month after the Olympic test event Four Continents competition in Vancouver because of injuries and other factors, but this one was obvious," said Thompson of announcing the decision to send the two to the massively important pre-Olympic Worlds in Los Angeles.

"My goal has been to get to Worlds," said Phaneuf of the assignment which has been owed her for so long.


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