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Figure skating: Olympic hopeful just 16, confident

Charbonneau debuts vs. veterans at nats

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KATE Charbonneau exudes self-confidence.

A year ago in her first appearance at the Canadian figure skating championships, the Winnipeg-born Charbonneau came out of nowhere to win the junior women's crown. She followed that success with a silver medal at an ISU Grand Prix event in Croatia last fall and is currently ranked 11th in the world among junior competitors.

This weekend at the 2010 Canadian championships in London, Ont., the 16-year-old is graduating to senior competition, a debutante with medal aspirations in a field full of veterans, including Olympic medal favourite Joannie Rochette, the world silver medallist who will be gunning for her sixth national title in London.

These championships also serve as the qualifier for next month's Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. Canada is allowed two entries in each discipline -- men's, women's, pairs and ice dance. Last year's champions -- Patrick Chan, Joannie Rochette, Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison, and ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir -- all having proven themselves as world medallists, have already punched their tickets to Vancouver.

Charbonneau and pairs contenders Paige Lawrence and Rudi Swiegers, self-described Saskatobians who train in Virden with Manitoba coach Patti Hole, are long shots to grab one of the remaining berths, although figure skating is predictably unpredictable, especially in an Olympic season.

According to Skate Canada's high-performance director Mike Slipchuk, no one has favoured status for the second spots. "Let the chips fall where they may," he said. "It will be whoever steps up in London."

It has been decades since a Manitoba-connected women's entry and pairs duo landed on the podium at the senior national championships, but Charbonneau and the cross-border pair, fourth-ranked in Canada last season, could end that drought this weekend.

Hamiota's Lyndon Johnston capped his lengthy pairs skating career by claiming gold in 1990. Now based in Florida, he serves as a coaching consultant to Lawrence and Swiegers. Winnipegger Heather Kemkaran won her second Canadian women's title in 1980.

The top contender for the second women's Olympic berth is Quebecer Cynthia Phaneuf, reportedly skating very well after underwhelming Grand Prix performances.

"I believe if I land all my jumps and get all the (difficulty) levels on my spins, I could definitely get a higher score than Cynthia," Charbonneau said.

"I am really excited. I'm not nervous. The only pressure I have is the pressure I put on myself."

Charbonneau, whose family now lives near Minneapolis, alternates training under the direction of her mom, Lorie Wallace Charbonneau, in Bloomington, Minn., and Robert Tebby in Barrie, Ont.

Charbonneau and Lawrence and Swiegers will compete in the final grouping of top-flight competitors in their short program openers on Friday.

Doug Leigh, who coached Brian Orser and Elvis Stojko out of Barrie, said: "To be in the last group is a fabulous opportunity, but you have to capitalize on that opportunity. Kate's a great skater. She has the presence, she's got the stuff, she's got the look and she has a chance."

Lawrence, 19, said she and Swiegers are "thankful" for their positioning. "It's a great achievement to be in the last group. It's something that everyone works for. It's the place everyone wants to be. We just have to go in with a clear head and do our best."

Virden's Kaleigh Hole (daughter of coach Hole) and her pairs partner Adam Johnson will also compete in senior pairs with a goal of earning a berth for the world junior championships in March. The two turned heads in Europe, the U.S. and Japan last fall, ranking among the top five junior teams globally in their first season together.



Manitobans at nationals


The Manitoba connection at Canadian Figure Skating Championships Jan. 11-17 in London, Ont.:


Senior women

Kate Charbonneau, 16

Hometown: Winnipeg/Prior Lake, Minn.

Training site: Bloomington, Minn./Barrie, Ont.

Career in brief: 2009 Canadian junior champion; 2nd Jr. Grand Prix (2009, Croatia)


Senior pairs

Paige Lawrence, 19/Rudi Swiegers, 22

Hometown: Kennedy/Kipling, Sask.

Training site: Virden

Career in brief: 4th Canadians and junior worlds, 2009; 7th at first senior Grand Prix (2009, Japan)


Kaleigh Hole, 16/Adam Johnson, 21

Home town: Virden/Chatham, Ont.

Training site: Strathroy, Ont.

Career in brief: partnered March 2009; 1st and 3rd Jr. Grand Prix (2009, Lake Placid and Bulgaria); 5th Jr. Grand Prix final (2009, Tokyo)


Junior ice dance

Martin Nickel, 20/Alexa-Marie Arrotta, 17

Hometown: Thompson/Edmonton

Training site: Barrie, Ont.

Career in brief: 9th as juniors, 2009 Canadians


Novice women

Deidre Russell, 15

Hometown: Winnipeg

Training site: Winnipeg

Career in brief: Qualified for 2010 nationals, 13th of 51 competitors.

Wednesday's result: 12th place with 80.73 points.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 14, 2010 C5

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