The very first thing I noticed as I crossed the threshold heading into the figure skating rink at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club recently wasn't the cold as much as the breeze generated from skaters tearing around the ice.
Not hard to miss was the elegant and beautiful young woman working on a section of her free program while I stood watching. The young woman is two-time and reigning Canadian champion Cynthia Phaneuf.
The first thing that jumped out at me was her remarkable speed, unflinching focus and glorious lines. The height on the jumps, the exquisite musicality and perfect presentation are still there since she switched to coach Brian Orser
in Toronto last November.
Phaneuf is well known as a top competitor, but with mixed results. Despite the confidence that re-gaining her national title in 2011 should have given her, she was less than perfect at the world championships, where she finished 13th, down from fifth the year before.
Phaneuf is charismatic and intelligent, and clearly felt that if she was to be taken seriously for the Sochi Olympics in 2014 she had to make a change. It couldn't have been easy, but she gets full marks in my books for looking for a solution to her competitive doldrums.
So I wanted to know: How's the new setup working for her? With characteristic graciousness and charm, she answered my questions ahead of the Canadian championships.Pj:
Tell me about your new training environment.Phaneuf:
It's amazing. Every day is a motivation, especially since I get to skate with so many great skaters. Even when I don't feel like skating, I do and find that I am motivated.Pj:
How would you say you have settled in Toronto and your new situation?Phaneuf:
I am so happy. For sure, nationals are arriving fast and I wish that I had more time. But we have been working very well. [Coach] Tracy [Wilson] helps me a lot. Brian is teaching me a lot of trusting yourself. You know how to jump already. I think that for me I made a good choice to come here.Pj:
Have there been any challenges in getting settled?Phaneuf:
I thought it would have been more difficult to adjust, but the coaches have been taking care of me. They care about how I feel and I thank them for that. This is the best decision for me for 2014.Pj:
Have you made any specific or big changes to your skating?
We have done a little bit of tweaking to both programs. We have changed a little bit of technique for everything.Pj:
Do you have a favourite jump?
Not really a favourite jump. Let me say that when everything is going well - I like everything!Pj:
Are you facing any challenges as you prepare for Canadians?
We haven't really talked about a goal for Canadians. I don't have to say it. I want to bring the title back home and get ready for worlds.Pj:
What would be your definition of a successful Canadians in Moncton?Phaneuf:
It's simple: the title. It's going out there and coming back with the title.Pj:
You are a role model for younger skaters. What advice do you have for a skater in their first appearance at Canadians?Phaneuf:
When it is our first time at nationals, you don't know how it's going to go. It's stressful and also exciting. You have to keep going. You have to follow what you have in your head and find that motivation inside to go through the hard times. The hard times is what is making you a good skater and person.Pj:
How has this move to Toronto changed you?
I feel like I have been going back to basics. Brian has helped me to see: this is a blade, this is the ice, you have to use them.
How would you define a successful skater?
Making a difference.Pj:
Is there anyone's skating career that is your roadmap?
There are people who inspire me, of course, but I am not looking at anyone else. Pj:
Have you started to plan for goals at worlds?
We haven't really been talking about that yet. But I would like to be in the top 10 for sure.Pj:
Do you have a favourite moment or special memory from competing at the Canadian championships?
The year when I qualified for the Olympics in 2010. The competition, the gala, all of it felt really good. It gave me the feeling that I had done the right thing in how I trained and now I was getting to go to the Olympics. It was special.
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