After winning the Canadian ladies title at 16 in 2004, Cynthia Phaneuf
had the eyes of the world upon her.
A silver medal in 2005 proved her win was not a fluke, but as the 2006 Canadian championships approached, injuries hit her. First her right knee forced her out of the Olympic picture for Torino, and then a stress fracture in her right ankle sidelined her that fall. But she proved resilient, working her way back onto the national podium and then the world stage.
"It was the way my career begins," says Phaneuf, 21. "I had great experiences at that time. I was not the same skater I am now. I'm different, maybe in a better way. I have more experience than before. I'm dealing with what I'm doing now.
"I like my progression through the last years," she adds. "Now it's better each year after each year. I'm very proud of that. I think I'm going to be ready for 2010."
She says she has no pain and takes no special precautions for her ankle. She also says her long-term goals always involved the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. While 2006 would have been a pleasant surprise, not being there did not diminish her enthusiasm for competition. Preparations for the 2009-10 season are pretty much business as usual, "but a little bit more stressful."
Phaneuf's two Grand Prix assignments this autumn are NHK Trophy in Japan and Skate Canada. She is repeating her short program and free skate from last season, with a few minor changes. Both programs were choreographed by David Wilson, with whom she's worked since she was 9.
"He knows me and I know him," she notes of the long collaboration. "When we work together, it doesn't take long. He knows what I like. He knows what I can do, and he knows how good I can do it. We know each other, so when we work together it's always a good experience."
Phaneuf says Wilson does not allow her to be complacent and he pushes her creatively. They each suggest music for programs and she rarely dislikes his selections, although sometimes they both need to sell her coach, Annie Barabé, on an idea.
As did all the members of the Canadian national team, Phaneuf attended the recent team camp in Vancouver. She feels she skated well and received good, solid feedback.
"It was good to see Vancouver before I'm going to go in 2010, I hope," she says. "Practices were good. The programs were good too, better than the year before, so I was very happy with what I did there."
Although she is repeating her programs from last season, she will have new costumes. The short program dress will be finished in time for her Grand Prix competitions, but the long program dress will probably debut at the Canadian championships.
She doesn't expect to be at her best right at the start, but rather build momentum through the season.
"This year is going to be a progression from the beginning of the year until nationals and Olympics," Phaneuf says. "My goal is to build something very strong to go with to nationals."
Keeping nerves at bay and not getting distracted by Olympic excitement isn't simple.
"You have Olympics in mind-it's everywhere," she said. "Everywhere you go people talk about Olympics. I just think that we cannot put too much pressure on ourselves. Practice cannot be always good every day. We just have to build confidence working towards Olympics."