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  • Friday, March 26, 1999

    Best showing by Canadian woman in five years

    By NEIL STEVENS -- Canadian Press
     HELSINKI (CP) -- Jennifer Robinson will apply the finishing touches at the world figure skating championships today to a great comeback season.
     She's 13th going into the free-skating final, and while this might be nothing to write home about for the top skaters in the event, it is a breakthrough for Robinson.
     She was 21st in 1996 in Edmonton and did not make Canada's worlds team in 1997 or 1998. But she's battled back.
     Now, she's moving on to the free-skating final pretty well assured of registering Canada's best showing in the event in five years. Not since 1994 in Chiba, Japan, where Josee Chouinard finished fifth and Susan Humphreys was ninth has a Canadian done this well.
     "I wanted to be in the top 15 after the short and so far so good," she said.
     Maria Butyrskaya was first, fellow-Russian Julia Soldatova second, Vanessa Gusmeroli of France third, and defending champion Michelle Kwan of the United States fourth after uncharacteristically falling off a double Axel.
     Robinson said she was tired when she awoke Friday because she hadn't been able to get to sleep. She tossed and turned thinking about how she was going to land a jump.
     "The Lutz was playing over and over and over in my head," she explained. "I couldn't stop.
     "I had to think about hairstyles to stop the skating stuff from going through my mind. So, I'm totally thrilled with (the performance) because I was pretty nervous."
     "She skated the whole night," co-coach Doug Leigh interjected.
     Canada's champion opened with a double Axel then landed a triple Lutz-double toe loop combo, double-footing the Lutz landing. That was a big deduction. Dragging the left foot has been an habitual problem for her.
     "She was sitting waiting for her marks and looking at her skate boots and pointing and saying, 'Good foot, bad foot,'" said Leigh.
     "And the Lutz was good in practice this morning," added co-coach Michelle Leigh.
     "It should be," Robinson offered. "I did it all night."
     The spins, footwork and triple Salchow that followed were exact. The top skaters tried triple loop jumps that are more difficult than the Salchow.
     "I can do the loop but it hasn't been consistent since Four Continents and we wanted to go with a clean program," she explained.
     The 2 1/2-minute program, choreographed by Lori Nichol to violin music, earned Robinson artistic marks as high as 5.3.
     "She can really skate with a lot of passion," said Michelle Leigh. "She loves doing that program and the jumps are out of the way really early.
     "That gives her the majority of the program just to pore on the passion. It was designed that way so she would have the time to do that."
     Working with Nichol and training part of the season with Olympic champion Tara Lipinski's coach Richard Callaghan across the Detroit River from her home town of Windsor, Ont., have been big factors in Robinson's comeback. The Leighs, who have coached Robinson in Barrie, Ont., for years, encouraged the shared coaching arrangement.
     "We sat down last spring and made a conscious decision to do something because what we were doing wasn't working," Doug Leigh explained. "You've got to be big enough to make those kind of decisions.
     "You don't do brain surgery by yourself. It's teamwork."
     As a result, he said, "Jennifer has the whole package now."
     At 22, part of the package is wisdom. Seeing war scenes from Yugoslavia on TV at her hotel before busing to Hartwall Arena put what she's doing here in perspective.
     "I was watching something of a little more important going on," she said. "This isn't that much.
     "What are you going to do? Hug your teddy bear and move on."

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