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Canada's Rochette hangs on for the bronze medal

Canadian champ gives mom ultimate tribute

Joannie Rochette looks up to the heavens after her bronze-medal-winning free skate at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games.
Joannie Rochette looks up to the heavens after her bronze-medal-winning free skate at the 2010 Winter Olympic Games. (Getty Images)

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By Amy Rosewater, special to icenetwork.com
(02/26/2010) - Typically when Joannie Rochette waves to the cameras in the kiss and cry, she goes through a usual routine of saying hello to her supporters.

"I say, 'Hi mom, hi dad, and hi to my hometown,' '' Rochette said. "Tonight was a bit different. I couldn't say hi to my mom.''

Rochette's emotional trip to the Olympic Winter Games, held on her home country's soil and with her mother's sudden death just five days ago, ended with her standing on the Olympic medal podium with a bronze medal around her neck. Rochette's mother Therese, 55, died in Vancouver Hospital after suffering a heart attack.

And when Rochette sat in the kiss and cry this time, she added to her usual greeting.

"I told my mom that I loved her,'' Rochette said. Speaking publicly for the first time since losing her mother, Rochette spoke with emotion, but balanced her comments about her mother and her skating with feeling, sadness, pride, tears and even some humor.

"I feel proud,'' said Rochette, whose medal performance was felt all the way from her tiny hometown of Ile Dupas, Quebec, to Vancouver and beyond. "And the result didn't matter. I'm happy to be on the podium. That was my goal coming here. It's been a lifetime project with my mom, and we achieved that.''

Rochette, the second-to-last skater in the women's competition, had the added pressure of having to skate after an incredible lineup of women's performances, including a world-record setting outing by South Korea's Yu-Na Kim and a history-making two triple Axel free skate by Japan's Mao Asada. Yet Rochette managed to calm any nerves she had and appeared calm and clear headed.

"Definitely the short program was the hardest,'' Rochette said. "It was my first competition since it happened and the first competition with my mom not in the stands.

"My emotions took the better of me, and I was trying to control them.''

Wearing a turquoise beaded outfit, Rochette performed a dramatic performance to the music of Samson and Delilah. And when the music ended, she waved to the crowd and then waved up to the sky.

It wasn't flawless. Rochette was downgraded for her missed triple flip and hung onto the landing of her triple Salchow. She also stepped out of a double Axel and couldn't muster the energy to try another one in a planned sequence. But for a woman who had been through so much personal pain this week it was more than she ever could have imagined.

Before the tragedy hit her family, Rochette had been giving her mother daily updates about her practices. Rochette had been struggling with her triple Lutz and knew when she landed it here that her mother would have been proud. She also knew that her mom wouldn't be thrilled with her errors. When Rochette was young and she would score a 98 on a test, her mother would ask her why she didn't get the other two points for a perfect 100.

"Even though she's not here anymore, I'm not afraid to say it,'' Rochette said. "Sometimes, she was a pain in the a**.''

And she had an added element to her program that was worth more than any triple-triple combination: a supportive crowd. The fans, many of whom waved Canadian flags, cheered her on after each triple, even on the ones she struggled with. The crowd started clapping loudly as she performed her combination spin late in the routine and rose to its feet when she finished.

Rochette, 24, smiled as she stepped out on the medal podium. Afterward, she grabbed a Canadian flag and draped it over her shoulders for a victory lap of sorts around the Olympic ice.

Rochette's bronze medal marked the first time a Canadian woman figure skater had earned an Olympic medal. The last woman to do so was Elizabeth Manley, who earned a silver medal when the Games were held in Calgary in 1988. Barbara Ann Scott is Canada's lone Olympic gold medalist in women's (and men's) skating. She captured that medal back in 1948.

During a post-event news conference, Rochette was asked a series of questions about her mother and then was asked about her skating performance. The quick-witted Rochette quipped, "I have to switch back to Rochette the athlete.''

Even Rochette's competitors were impressed with her ability to compete in these Games.

"I think she skated for the love of everything, her mom and the love of skating,'' said American Mirai Nagasu, who placed fourth. "If ever I'm in a tough spot, I can look to her. She has become a role model for all young girls.''