Rochette delivers solid short despite tragedy

Canadian champion third after ladies short program

Canada's Joannie Rochette won the bronze medal at the 2010 Olympics just days after a heart attack claimed her mother's life.
Canada's Joannie Rochette won the bronze medal at the 2010 Olympics just days after a heart attack claimed her mother's life. (Getty Images)


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By Amy Rosewater, special to
(02/24/2010) - Joannie Rochette stepped out onto the ice in workmanlike style.

She went through her six-minute warm up as she has done so many times before. And then she gave her longtime coach Manon Perron her traditional, good-luck hand slap and skated her short program.

But this wasn't any competition. It was the Olympics.

And more importantly for Rochette, she was competing for the first time without her mother, who died of a heart attack just two days ago.

With the partisan Canadian crowd in the Pacific Coliseum waving flags and signs of support for its six-time national champion, Rochette delivered one of the most courageous and strongest performances of her career. Incredibly, considering the circumstances, she earned a season-best score for her short program with 71.36 points and is in third place entering the women's free skate on Thursday.

Skating to the Spanish music of "La Cumparsita,'' Rochette landed her two toughest elements, a triple lutz-double toe and a triple flip, and at the end she brought the sold-out crowd to its feet.

It was only when her music stopped and she skated to the middle of the ice did she let out any tears.

Afterward she said simply, "Words cannot describe.''

Rochette, who has not spoken with reporters since news broke of her mother's death, talked briefly with Canada's team leader, Michael Slipchuk, and he relayed her thoughts to members of the media.

"It was very nice to have the warm welcome,'' said Rochette, who hails from the tiny town of Ile Dupas, Quebec. "It was hard to handle, but I appreciate the support.''

Rochette surprised some people here in Vancouver by coming to practice at the Pacific Coliseum on Sunday, not long after her father broke the tragic news to her. In both her practices at the Pacific Coliseum, she skated with a heavy heart but didn't let it show.

"She didn't cry, no,'' said William Thompson, Skate Canada's CEO. "Not publicly.''

Thompson said the outpouring of support for Rochette and her family has been immense, noting that messages to Rochette have been sent from members of various sports organizations, athletes and sponsors. Canada's women's hockey team sent her a card, Thompson said.

"She is so strong,'' Thompson said. "Right now I think her mom is jumping up and down in the sky, watching her.''

Rochette had plenty of support in the arena, including support from her competitors.

Brian Orser, Canada's two-time Olympic silver medalist, is coaching Yu-Na Kim, the South Korean skater and the heavy favorite for the gold medal. But he couldn't help but want Rochette to perform well.

"I was so proud of Joannie,'' Orser said. "I can only imagine how tough this has been for her. She is a wonderful person and skating fans from our nation helped carry her through.''