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Lacoste, Phaneuf vie for Canada's worlds spot

Top Canadian lady at Four Continents punches ticket to Nice

Recently crowned national champ Amélie Lacoste (above) will have to outdo Cynthia Phaneuf at the Four Continents Championships to earn her place at worlds.
Recently crowned national champ Amélie Lacoste (above) will have to outdo Cynthia Phaneuf at the Four Continents Championships to earn her place at worlds. (Getty Images)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(02/08/2012) - Amélie Lacoste, 23, got to celebrate her 2012 Canadian ladies title for one night before learning that it didn't guarantee her a trip to the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships. On Jan. 23, Skate Canada announced the skaters named for three upcoming ISU championships: Four Continents, world juniors and worlds.

For the ladies, it read: "The top two finishers from the national championship will compete at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, and Canada's one entry for the world team will be named following their performances at that competition."

This week in Colorado Springs, one Canadian lady will see her season come to an end while one will get a ticket to the Côte d'Azur.

"I'm extra excited, I would say. I have nothing to lose and everything to gain," said 2012 silver medalist Cynthia Phaneuf, 24, who won the free skate at the Canadian championships in Moncton after a poor short program.

"I'm going to Four Continents having another chance to do my best," she continued. "Everything has been going well at home. I'm very confident. For sure, I hope everything goes for the best for myself to get the spot for the world championships."

To her credit, Lacoste is keeping a positive attitude about the situation as well.

"I'm not putting pressure on myself. I'm not concentrating on the spot for worlds. I'm just going to concentrate on my programs and what I need to do," Lacoste said after her practice session Tuesday night at the Colorado Springs World Arena. "I'm going to relax and enjoy the competition. It's a new challenge -- it wasn't expected -- but it's a challenge for me, and I will take it in a good way."

Someone who can well understand the scenario that will unfold this week in Colorado Springs is three-time Canadian medalist Ben Ferreira, who in 2000 earned his spot on the Canadian world team by beating Emanuel Sandhu at Four Continents.

"For me, it was a really neat opportunity because I was the underdog anyway," said Ferreira, now a coach in Edmonton, Alberta. "It kind of elevated my game. For me personally, I had just won my first bronze medal at nationals, and I was really happy about that. At the time, I thought the chance to have a skate off at Four Continents was great.

"I didn't feel any added pressure because I was 20 years old, pretty fresh and just looked forward to the experience. For me, it was a real victory."

Sandhu, then 19, didn't take the situation the same way. He had just won his third senior men's silver medal behind Elvis Stojko, and when he was told he'd have to win a skateoff with Ferreira, it was a blow to his confidence.

"Emanuel always did his best when he was well-prepared and well-trained and when he felt that he had a lot of support," recalled Gayle McClelland, former national teams director for Skate Canada. "Heading into Four Continents for a skateoff was demoralizing for Emanuel. For an athlete who at times struggled in terms of confidence, a skateoff wasn't the kind of motivation that would propel Emanuel to lay down a great performance.

"For Emanuel, he had the spot to lose, whereas Ben had it to gain. Different types of motivation."

Sandhu did not respond to requests for comment for this article.

Ferreira said he thinks both Lacoste and Phaneuf are up to the challenge.

"It's going to be interesting," Ferreira said. "I'm sure the best skater will come to the front. It'll be good for both of them."

Six-time Canadian ladies champion Jennifer Robinson agreed.

"I think the skateoff is a good thing because we need to make sure -- especially as we build our Canadian women's skating team -- that we have strategically the right person going to worlds that is going to be able to get the job done for the top 10," said Robinson, now a part-time coach, television host and city council person in Barrie, Ontario.

"What it comes down to is you want to be sure you're sending your best person," she added. "Cynthia and Amélie know what they're skating for. The fact that they appreciate they're having more pressure put on them to qualify for the world team just goes to show they're that much mentally tougher to be able to get the job done."

Phaneuf said she's grateful that Skate Canada has given her this opportunity and understands that she's better than one bad short program. To be at her best this week, she is drawing inspiration from newly crowned U.S. ladies champion Ashley Wagner, who spoke honestly in interviews about being tired of being the "almost girl."

"I was very happy for her that she was able to put it out there under the pressure," Phaneuf said. "I have to admit it, she inspired me with what she said, and I thought, 'That's a great way to speak your mind.' I was seeing myself in what she was saying.

"I think we're good skaters in Canada, and we can compete against these other girls," she added. "We can push each other to be even better."