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Phaneuf leaves nest, embraces new future

French Canadian starts fresh, transitions from Quebec to Toronto

Cynthia Phaneuf felt she needed a change after some disappointing Grand Prix results.
Cynthia Phaneuf felt she needed a change after some disappointing Grand Prix results. (Getty Images)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(01/12/2012) - Disheartened by poor results at her two Grand Prix events last fall -- seventh at Skate Canada and ninth at NHK Trophy -- two-time Canadian ladies champion Cynthia Phaneuf made a huge change. In November, she left longtime coaches Annie Barabé and Sophie Richard in Contrecoeur, Quebec, and moved to Toronto to train with Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club.

"I'm very excited every day to go back to the rink and train with them," said Phaneuf, who will turn 24 on the first day of the 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Moncton, New Brunswick.

During a teleconference Tuesday morning, Phaneuf declined to compare her former coaches with her present ones, but she did say she has a new mindset and approach to her skating.

"For me to just have a new way of seeing my skating, a new way of people talking to me is a very good thing," she said. "It's making me feel like I have new goals, just a new way of skating every day. It's a very big thing for me."

She said she sees both mental and physical changes.

"I was a very bland skater. We've been practicing a lot on adding feeling. Now I am different than I used to be. Working on all that stuff. Everything was so structured. Now it's a little more free. How you feel, what you feel when you do that. I'm relying a little bit more on my natural feeling.

"It is a more natural way of seeing my training," she said. "They really want to know how I feel, how I'm seeing things, how I think things are going to go. For me, it is really important the way they really care about how I'm seeing stuff."

A huge advantage of training at the Toronto Cricket Skating and Curling Club is proximity to her longtime choreographer David Wilson, who works at the rink.

"If something is wrong in the program, we can fix it right away," Phaneuf said. "We've been changing some stuff in the programs. I've just been working with what would work best for me."

Senior ladies compete on Jan. 20 and 21. Phaneuf said that she has been working with Orser for a relatively short time, but they are looking forward to this first competition together.

"Training has been going very well," she said. "We're already looking forward to the worlds, looking for a very good performance there."

Phaneuf said it wasn't easy to make this move and leave home. Although she'd lived on her own for some time, it was still difficult to make the transition. The first week in Toronto was tough, but after a few days she was fine.

"As soon as I got in the rink, I saw this was the right thing that I did. It was the right choice," she said.

At 16, Phaneuf burst onto the skating scene with an upset win at the Canadian championships and followed that with a silver medal at the Four Continents Championships. In the following years, she battled injury and uncertainty, but finally seemed to find her footing in 2009, when she returned to the world championships after a three-year absence. She earned a spot on the 2010 Canadian Olympic team, finishing 12th in Vancouver. Last year, she won her second Canadian title.

She is appreciative that her new coaches understand her maturation process.

"They know that I'm a woman now," she added. "I've been going through a lot and know what's the game and what I need to do. I think they trust me. That's a very good thing. We have trust and everybody wants to hear everybody's thoughts."

While Phaneuf hopes there's a good deal more to her season, right now she is eager to hit the ice in Moncton and feel the incredible support of the Canadian audience.

"The vibe is always great," she said. "We have good energy from the crowd. It is always one of my favorite competitions of the year."