National crown important to Rochette

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:11 AM ET

Most everyone believes there is a reserved sign on the first-place step in the senior women's competition at the Canadian figure skating championships.

And that the sign has Joannie Rochette's name on it.

Why wouldn't they? Rochette is in London looking for her sixth national singles title in succession. She won her first in London in 2005. She's virtually assured of a spot at the Vancouver Olympics no matter what happens.

The real battle will be for second spot on the Olympic team and it should be a dandy fight that includes Cynthia Phaneuf, Myriane Samson, Amelie Lacoste and maybe Watford's Diane Szmiett.

The women's short program goes today.

But that doesn't mean the women's division will be without interest. Even though Rochette is a good bet to win, this championship will provide her with a key step in her preparation for the ultimate goal of bringing home a medal at the Olympics.

This competition will allow her to work on a long routine she termed "a disaster" when she finished fifth in an ISU event in Japan in December.

Even though she's headed to Vancouver, the Canadian championship is important to her.

"Nationals are very special for me every year," she said. "The first time I won everyone was congratulating me and I told myself, 'Yeah, but that's only one and Jen Robinson won six.' So I could make it six here, so I'm challenging myself. Its stressful but I think it's a good challenge. It's an accomplishment every year to try and do one more and especially this one just before the Olympics is very important.

"I have to skate two good programs here not only to qualify but for my confidence."

Since Japan, Rochette has changed some of her training habits and worked on her program. She hasn't made major changes but tweaked the program to make her more comfortable with it.

A polished skate here would help her with that confidence.

"In Japan, it was a disaster for sure my long program," she said. "It's kind of a good kick because when you come back and you start back at zero from scratch, it kind of feels good in a way . . . We reworked the program from the beginning and when you got your jumps and all the elements, all it takes is about a month to get the program feeling good. I had no time to lose and I knew it but it was good to be able to start from scratch and rebuild that confidence."

Rochette felt she hasn't had enough time to train with all the travel and competitions. When she did make it home, she was weary from the travel and couldn't train the way she liked.

She likes where she is now.

"During Christmas, it was real important to me to have kind of a blackout, just stay home, train and say no to everything just train, train, train with my old pattern that used to work," she said. "It's a cycle, the better you skate the more confident you get, the more confident you get, the better you skate. I didn't find that early in the season."

There will be plenty of challenges for the No. 2 spot and given the vagaries of competitive skating, no spot is ever secure.

Szmiett finished fourth in last year's Canadian championships and while an Olympic berth is more than enticing, Szmiett is just looking to skate two good performances.

"I just want to go out and deliver two performances that I can be proud of. Knowing that every day is not going to be perfect so just going out and trying my best for that day is my goal. Where I end up, placement is kind of secondary right now. I just want to skate my best.

"You do want to go out there and be on that podium and stand at the top. But going into the competition I just want to focus on me and my skating."

Szmiett is happy with how she's skating.

"I feel like I am progressing fairly well in this sport, showing that I am improving every year. I keep coming back and showing little things I keep working on a daily basis and improving that little bit more."

Szmiett has something to remember from the competition. She delivered the athletes' oath at the opening ceremony.


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