Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Local skaters in top form for nationals

Charbonneau, Hole confident heading to Moncton

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Manitobans Kaleigh Hole and Kate Charbonneau almost knocked themselves out of contention for a berth at this week's Canadian figure skating championships when they competed to qualify for the event last month in Regina.

A disastrous short program buried Hole in 34th place among 37 senior women, but she rallied with a seventh-best free skate to clinch one of 15 openings for nationals. In the process, the Brandon native might well have set a record for rebound performances, having climbed 22 spots to 12th overall.

The fortitude Hole showed that day should serve her well Friday in Moncton, N.B., when she performs her short program opener.

The same could be said of Charbonneau. The 2009 national junior champion, competed her freeskate at the qualifier following a high-speed collision on the warm-up. The competitor with whom she crashed back-to-back plummeted to 16th place, while Charbonneau held on to finish fourth.

"I ended up with sprained ligaments in my back and a rib out of place. I had a very rough skate," said Charbonneau, 18. "I took three days off the ice after that and I couldn't do any off-ice training for about 3 weeks."

Hole, also 18, now a kinesiology student and track team member at the University of Western Ontario, summed up her amazing comeback with three words.

"It was crazy," the Virden club member said, chuckling. "But, it does give me confidence for Canadians."

Hole, who ran hurdles and a 60-metre sprint in a university meet three days before heading to Moncton, had not expected to be competing only in singles this season. She and pairs partner Adam Johnson had ranked 10th at the 2010 world juniors, then earned national team membership with fifth place in senior competition at the 2011 nationals.

Johnson retired unexpectedly last May, leaving Hole to fend for herself as a rookie in senior women's competition. (She will skate pairs again if she can find a new partner.)

This weekend, Hole is aiming for a top-10 result, while Charbonneau, sixth at the world juniors in 2010, has her sights set on the podium. A year ago, her season ended with a disappointing ninth place but she delivered strong performances at junior Grand Prix events in Italy and Poland in recent months.

"I would love to make the (ISU) Four Continents Championships team and, of course, junior worlds," said Charbonneau, a Skate Winnipeg member who lives and trains in the Minneapolis area where mom Lorie is her primary coach.

Although just a handful of competitors, including the Manitobans, are age-eligible for the 2012 junior world championships in Belarus in late February, Canada has only one women's berth.

Since last March, Charbonneau has been enjoying occasional training stints in Colorado Springs (where Four Continents will be held), skating alongside Canada's world champion Patrick Chan and under the direction of his coach.

"It's so much fun to be able to skate with him. He's so fast!" she said.

Quebec's Cynthia Phaneuf is favoured to defend the national title she won last year despite dreadful showings in the fall Grand Prix events. Since then, she has relocated to Toronto to train with twice Olympic medallist Brian Orser, who guided Korea's Yuna Kim to Olympic gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2012 C6

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