|Cynthia Phaneuf falls during the Senior Women short program at the Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Moncton, New Brunswick, Jan. 20, 2012. (REUTERS/ Mike Cassese)
Usually when someone named Phaneuf skates on to the ice at an arena other than the Air Canada Centre, people boo.
But at the Moncton Coliseum Complex on Friday night, when the name Phaneuf was announced, the crowd was downright hospitable.
Cynthia Phaneuf — apparently a fourth cousin to Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf — is the defending ladies singles champion at the Canadian figure skating championships and was favoured to defend her title this weekend in Moncton.
But her best laid plans went somewhat awry. A fifth-place finisher at the 2010 world championships, Phaneuf fell attempting a triple loop and touched on a triple lutz to drop to fourth place after the short program. She now has to have a huge freeskate on Saturday to win.
“I was very nervous before going out there,” admitted the Toronto-based skater. “That was not my best skate.”
But the big news in Friday’s short wasn’t so much Phaneuf’s disappointing skate, but the performance of 16-year-old Edmonton skater Kaetlyn Osmond, who landed a spectacular triple toe-triple toe combination jump to move into first place. Last year, Osmond, who hails originally from Marystown, NL,, placed sixth at the 2011 Junior nationals and is now one step away from representing Canada at the senior world championships in March — Skate Canada has qualified one woman for that event in Nice, France.
For Osmond, it’s all about health. The Ravi Walia-coached skater has had to deal with numerous injuries over the years, including a sprained ankle suffered in June. But after taking most of the summer off from training, and missing the Junior Grand Prix circuit, she came back ready to make a splash on the national senior scene. And Skate Canada high performance director Mike Slipchuk couldn’t be happier.
“We need to have these kind of performances, where we have younger people step up and challenge the top,” said Slipchuk. “We’ve been missing that for a while, so this will do nothing but good for our ladies event.”
Osmond seemed surprised to be in first place following her short. After all, this was her first senior nationals, and she had never landed the triple-triple in competition before. Surprised yes, but also delighted.
“I hoped I would,” the grade 11 student at Edmonton’s Vimy Ridge Academy said, when asked if she expected to make a splash here. “But I never really thought about it.”
For her part, Phaneuf, 23, was feeling more pressure than usual. A couple of months ago, she left her long-time coaches, Annie Barabe and Sophie Richard, and moved from Contrecoeur, Que., to Toronto to train with former world champion Brian Orser at the Cricket Club. Orser coached South Korea’s Yu-Na Kim to the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and believes that he can return Phaneuf to the point where she may be near a podium spot at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. But he said her development will take some time.
“She feels that people are expecting to see a big difference (right away),” said Orser, explaining why his skater was nervous and cautious. “But we’ve only been working together for six weeks. This is a long-term project for both of us. Looking at Sochi and the Grand Prix events starting next October is where you’re going to see the big difference. You can’t make big, big changes in six weeks.”