Phaneuf in position for upset

MORRIS DALLA COSTA, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 9:12 AM ET

Cynthia Phaneuf has one foot on the airplane bound for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Phaneuf skated a terrific short program at the Canadian figure skating championships yesterday, scoring 66.30 to lead five-time defending Canadian champ Joannie Rochette.

Rochette fell on a triple-lutz and while she skated clean after that, finished with 64.15.

Rochette is virtually guaranteed a spot on the Olympic team, so the battle is for that second spot. Phaneuf has a big lead over Amelie Lacoste who scored 53.99 and is in third place.

Phaneuf called it the best short program she's skated.

"It was just a bonus," Phaneuf said when asked how she felt when the score came up. "I was so happy with what I did on the ice to do it in front of all the people I love, my parents, my boyfriend was there too. To do it in front of the crowd too, was great."

Rochette hasn't given Phaneuf much of an opportunity to win a title. She won it as a 15-year-old and tried to defend it in 2005 here in London. Rochette won her first of five titles in succession.

Phaneuf then begun to grow and while it's taken a while she has gradually worked her way back to the top, finishing second last year.

Phaneuf's substantial lead over Lacoste might make things less stressful for the women's long program today.

"I'm not going to say it doesn't change anything. But yes, I think I'll have a little more confidence in the long program than if I would be tight with third place," Phaneuf said. "But I know I have to skate a very strong long program. I got to go out and skate like I skate at home and be proud of myself when I get off the ice."

Other than the fall, Rochette was happy with her program.

"I was disappointed with my mistake," she said. "But I'm happy I got all my levels, counted everything, I didn't let everything down.

"To be honest, I didn't feel that the short was any weaker than what I had this season. You know, stuff like that (the fall) happens and you have to deal with it that's what I did today. And I was still able to get a good score to be in a good position for the free skate."

While a spot at the Olympics is the ultimate goal, Phaneuf would love to win a Canadian title. She was in first place after the short program in Saskatoon last year.

Even though there is still the obstacle of the long program to overcome, Phaneuf admits the Olympics are on her mind.

"I'm not going to say I wasn't thinking about it," Phaneuf said. "I'm coming here to go to the Olympics. I'm not coming here to finish third or fourth. I'm coming here to go to the Olympics."

Diane Szmiett of Watford, also fell on a triple Lutz but otherwise finished clean to score 48.19 and remains in the final group.

"I had a lot of fun out there," she said. "I fell on the Lutz but it wasn't a big deal to me. I kept going with the program. There was just a little movement on the takeoff, but other than that it as pretty good. It didn't really faze me."

Szmiett finished fourth at last year's Canadians.


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