Phaneuf takes short program

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SASKATOON - Cynthia Phaneuf knows there are more than a few figure skating fans that had written her off. There were plenty of times over the past five years she felt like doing the same.
But the athlete from Contrecoeur, Que., who for a while disappeared from the skating landscape, was back on top Friday, upsetting four-time champion Joannie Rochette to lead after the women's short program at the Canadian figure skating championships.
"I'm just feeling so good for my birthday and everything," said Phaneuf, who turned 21 on Friday. "This is the best gift I can give myself."
Phaneuf fell on a planned triple Lutz-double toe loop combination, but scored 55.16 points to edge Rochette, who will take a score of 53.58 into Saturday's long program. Amelie Lacoste of Delson, Que., was third with 53.55.
Earlier in the day, defending ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the original dance program to widen their lead.
Phaneuf was a delicate five-foot-three and barely 16 when a meteoric rise took her to the top of the podium at the Canadian championships in 2004 in Edmonton, where she upset six-time champion Jennifer Robinson. She went on to win Skate Canada and finish second at Skate America, but her career went into a tailspin not long after.
She suffered a knee injury and stress fractures to her ankle and hip, and was off skates for nearly a year. During that time, a sudden growth spurt saw her shoot up a good three or four inches, and she returned to skating with an entirely different body and her centre of gravity thrown off-kilter.
"I had to learn how to skate all over again," she said. "It was going very bad, and I had to learn how to jump all over again, so for sure there were some days I wanted to quit."
Her confidence has been slow to return, but she's been working hard with a sports psychologist.
"When I was going on the ice I wasn't feeling well, I was all stressed out and I wasn't able to use the stress well, I was using my stress in a bad way," she said. "Now I'm just trying to use it in the right way. I worked with my new psychologist and he helped me a lot to be here and be proud of myself after the competition."
Phaneuf knows she won on a day Rochette wasn't at her best, and holding off the four-time Canadian champion in Saturday's long program will be difficult.
"I know my goal is not to have the gold medal, it's just to be on the world (championship) team, so I don't have a lot of pressure for (Saturday), I just have to have fun on the ice, just like I did today," she said.
Skate Canada will name the team for Four Continents in Vancouver following this weekend, and its full team for the world championships after Four Continents.
Despite her Canadian victory in 2004, Phaneuf was left off the world team that year because of her age.
"You know what, I cannot change it anymore, but for sure I know if I went I would have a lot more experience than I do today," she said. "But it was like that and I had to accept it."
Rochette, who opened this season with a pair of Grand Prix titles, struggled Friday, falling on a triple Lutz, singling a planned double Axel, and slightly under-rotating a triple flip-triple toe combination.

Geographic location: SASKATOON, Delson, Edmonton Canada Vancouver

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