Joannie Rochette has retained her Canadian figure skating championship, thanks to a nearly flawless performance in the women's free program at Saskatoon on Saturday afternoon.
It's Rochette's fifth-straight national title, one in which the Ile-Dupas, Que., resident came back from a subpar performance in the short program that had left her in second place.
Cynthia Phaneuf of Contrecoeur, Que., fell three times in her free performance to finish second, while former national junior champion Amélie Lacoste of Delson, Que., was third.
Rochette had come in trailing Phaneuf by just over 1.5 points but that hardly mattered in the end as the champion nailed everything, including a beautiful triple Lutz-double toe-double loop combination right off the start — setting the tone for what was to come.
Before the halfway point of the 4½-minute skate she had put in a nice triple flip, a triple loop with lots of height and a dynamic triple Lutz to bring the previously somnambulant crowd to the edge of their seats.
By the end, the audience was on its feet as Rochette skated off to the kiss-and-cry with the title practically wrapped up.
Her score of 131.77 in the free program was more than 40 points better than any previous competitor, and a combined 185.35 set a tough bar for Phaneuf, skating last, to clear.
"After my short program I was a bit angry with myself," Rochette told Brenda Irving of CBC Sports. "I think that I put myself in a very tough situation and was very disappointed in my personal performance."
Rochette had fallen off a triple Lutz and singled a planned double Axel during Friday afternoon's short program.
"To come back tonight and just to do it for myself in the way I'm trained to do … I'm very happy with that," she said Saturday.
Too many falls
Phaneuf, who had won the national title five years ago in Edmonton at just 15, has struggled with injury and body growth over the past few seasons but was in a position to pull all the way back to the top of the podium in Saskatoon.
Just a day after turning 21, she came out with seven triple jumps planned in the program.
Things went sour quickly, however, as Phaneuf fell off a triple Lutz, despite getting the full rotation on it, then leaned through a triple loop before falling off a triple flip.
Another dump off a triple Salchow, and it was all over but the music. She scored 96.26 for the free program and 151.42 overall.
Still, second was one place better than in 2008 and it means a spot for Phaneuf on the world championships team heading to Los Angeles to end the season.
Kang moves up
Lacoste skated a clean, elegant performance for third place, though she cut down a couple of jumps and was not able to match the technical points of the skaters above.
Diane Szmiett of Watford, Ont., was fourth overall, using her body strength and solid interpretation to post her best free-skate score of the year.
Fifth overall was Kathryn Kang of North Vancouver, who came up from seventh with an 86.38 free skate that was fourth best on the day. Mira Leung of Vancouver was sixth.
Rochette, with two wins this year on the Grand Prix circuit, is happy with her long program but not the short.
"We have to make the short program better, but we'll work on that," she said.