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Canadian junior champ Charbonneau living her dream

Little-known Minnesota teen a big surprise at Nationals

Kate Charbonneau is the sole ladies entry for Canada at the JGP Austria.
Kate Charbonneau is the sole ladies entry for Canada at the JGP Austria. (Gérard Châtaigneau)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(04/28/2009) - Kate Charbonneau came out of nowhere to win the Canadian junior women's title last January.

Nowhere in this case is actually Savage, Minnesota, a community about 30 minutes south of Minneapolis. Although she was born in Winnipeg, Canada, and holds Canadian citizenship, Charbonneau, who just turned 16, has lived in Minnesota with her family since she was four years old.

She competed primarily in U.S. Figure Skating events -- until last fall, that is, when she entered her first competition in Canada's national qualifying system. Charbonneau won the first round -- the Manitoba sectionals -- and then posted the second-highest score among all junior women from across Canada in the final qualifier for nationals.

"Ever since I was really young -- probably seven -- I wanted to skate for Canada. We were finally able to make that switch this year. I'm really happy I did. It's exciting," Charbonneau said.

In 2005-06, competing in the U.S. system, Charbonneau qualified for the junior nationals at the intermediate level and finished fourth. In two subsequent tries as a novice- and then junior-level competitor, she did not advance from sectionals to the U.S. Championships.

Although she recognizes it will be tall order, Charbonneau has set her sights on finishing on the podium among Canada's senior women in the upcoming Olympic season. She has already had new programs choreographed -- the short by Shae-Lynn Bourne, 2003 world ice dance champion, and the long by American Kelly Benzinger-Grelle.

If given the chance to compete internationally as a junior, however, she will adjust those programs to suit junior criteria.

After winning the Canadian title three months ago, Charbonneau went right back to work in Minnesota to prepare for the opportunities that lie ahead.

"To be on the podium at senior is going to take a lot of work, obviously, but I'm ready for it and I just need to keep advancing," said Charbonneau, who has all the triple jumps under her belt.

This past weekend, she and six other promising young competitors including junior men's champ Andrei Rogozine, convened in Toronto for Skate Canada's three-day national development camp. The purpose of the event is to educate the athletes and their coaches (which include Charbonneau's mom Lorie Wallace) about incorporating performance enhancement training into their daily plan.

Skaters were also fitness tested and attended workshops on nutrition, injury prevention, psychology, dance and theater. On-ice sessions included technical and basic skating skill development.

Among the presenters were Bourne and Manon Perron, coach to world silver medalist Joannie Rochette.

"I've loved everything we've done so far," Charbonneau said in a telephone interview mid-way through the weekend. "With Shae-Lynn Bourne, we did stroking and edges and Manon Perron did our jumping session yesterday, and we had a great theatre and ballet session off the ice.

"I've been able to come out of my comfort zone, my box. The theatre classes and on-ice classes have really helped me with that, definitely," said Charbonneau whose younger sister and brother both play ice hockey. Sister Jessica's under-14 team ranked third at the state championship last winter.

Since age nine, Charbonneau has trained occasionally in Barrie, Ontario, with coach Robert Tebby, but her mom has always been and is still her main coach.

Coincidentally, within hours of her daughter winning the junior title, Wallace was on a plane to Cleveland where she coached Kiri Baga to the U.S. novice title. A party to celebrate both girls' wins followed at their home rink in Bloomington, a Minneapolis suburb.

This summer, Charbonneau will spend most of her time at the Mariposa School with Tebby and much-respected, veteran coach Doug Leigh. She plans to compete in a couple of summer events to get her competition legs back under her before the fall.

"I know that starting very soon I am going to be spending a lot more time in Canada, in Barrie mostly, but I'm not sure of my plans for the fall and winter yet," said the 10th-grade student.

Skate Canada's high performance director Mike Slipchuk said that Charbonneau has a great shot at getting a junior Grand Prix assignment this fall but, until the selection process is finalized, he is making no promises.

Thinking about that prospect, Charbonneau said, "Omigosh! I would be so excited to do that. I've always wanted to -- most skaters have. It would be such a great opportunity."