Rochette keeping mother’s Olympic dream alive
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VANCOUVER, British Columbia – She still hasn’t buried her mother, but here was Joannie Rochette, among the last skaters to leave the practice ice Monday. She took her time leaning up against the boards, slipping a guard around her skate blade.
These were the final moments of normalcy, preparing for Tuesday’s ladies short program. Off the ice a crushing reality remains: Sunday’s unexpected death of her mother, Therese, who suffered a massive heart attack upon arriving in Vancouver to watch her daughter skate in these Games.
If you wanted to see Olympic courage, if you wanted to witness a testament to inner strength overcoming the worst of circumstances, a petite blonde from Montreal delivered it in full Monday afternoon by merely getting through practice.
From a corner of the Pacific Coliseum stands sat her father, Normand, dabbing his eyes with a handkerchief at the sight of his daughter even trying to make this happen. Less than 48 hours had passed since he made an early morning trip to the Olympic Village to break the most horrible of news to his daughter.
Joannie Rochette is determined to skate Tuesday evening. To skate for Canada. To skate for the world. To skate for the mother who shared this dream of gliding over Olympic ice.
“Yesterday was the toughest day of her life,” said Nathalie Lambert of the Canadian Olympic Committee. “[On Tuesday] 20,000 people will express the love of the whole country to her.”
Try the whole world.
Some onlookers at a mostly empty Pacific Coliseum were moved to emotion with each practice jump, spin and walkthrough of her routine. Twice the small gathering of fans and stadium workers loudly applauded her efforts.
No one has any idea how she got out there. Her agent initially thought she’d pull out. Skate Canada officials say she can stop at any point, yet she has told them she wants to go forward. Rochette won’t speak publicly until after she competes.
The death of a parent sends even the strongest into a temporary shell of mourning. Rochette is going to try to step alone into a global spotlight and perform a technically challenging program where a single bobble will send her crashing down.
It’s an event that requires intense focus and concentration. It’s nerve-shattering under the best of circumstances. These are the worst.
“She is very, very strong,” said Benoit Lavoie, President of Skate Canada. “I am very, very proud. I am more than amazed. I’m having emotions even myself [just thinking about it].”
Joannie Rochette, 24, had come to Vancouver for the Opening Ceremony and to complete her training here. Her parents, Therese and Normand, arrived Saturday from Quebec and after a brief visit with their daughter went to a downtown apartment they had rented. Later that night, Normand found his wife, 55, unresponsive and rushed her to a local hospital where she was pronounced dead early Sunday morning.
Normand then awoke his daughter at the Olympic Village and broke the news of the tragedy.
Team Canada has surrounded Rochette with support, offering a 24-hour presence around her, access to professional help and an open-ended offer for anything she may need.
“Her boyfriend is with her, her coach is with her all the time, as is her sports psychologist,” Lambert said. “She is doing amazingly great. She is strong.”
On Monday, Rochette looked like any other skater on the practice ice. Wearing black warmups and black gloves, her hair swinging in a ponytail, she went through practice jumps, spins and walked through her two-minute, 50-second routine. Between efforts she returned to one side where her longtime coach, Manon Perron, held her hands and offered encouragement.
Physically, she is ready to compete. Other than that, it’s anyone’s guess.
“Joannie showed up a level of readiness required at this stage,” Lavoie said. “Physically she was ready to go.”
He’s known Rochette since she was 12, knows her determination and knows that if she can will her way onto that ice, she’s going to skate.
“Now she can prove to us how strong she is,” Lavoie said.
The Rochettes are your classic skating family and Therese was intricately involved in her daughter’s world-class development. Canadian officials said they first became aware of Joannie as a pre-teen and where they saw her, they saw her mother. They lived then in a tiny hamlet of Quebec, Ile Du Pas (population 564). The two of them, a small-town family with big-time dreams, were inseparable as they drove to and from tournaments.
This Olympic pursuit was more than just a love of skating; it was a love of each other, a shared journey.
Under normal conditions, Therese would’ve been here Monday, watching every second of this practice.
Joannie Rochette has won six Canadian championships and finished fifth at the Turin Games. She was expected to contend for a medal here, perhaps even push Korean sensation Kim Yu-Na for gold. More than that, these were special Games, the Canadian Games and the likely finale of her competitive career.
Now it’s no longer about winning. It’s no longer about a podium. It has little to do with pursuing perfection. It’s about getting out there and trying.
Joannie Rochette sailed through practice Monday, determined, focused and serious. You could see it in her eyes. If you didn’t know she was dealing with heartbreak, you wouldn’t have known. This practice was about one thing and one thing only.
On Tuesday, she is going to skate for the world. On Tuesday, she is going to skate for her mother.
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