Canadian figure skater’s mom dies
Early Sunday, Rochette’s mother, Therese, died of a massive heart attack just a few hours after arriving in Vancouver to watch her daughter compete. The Canadian star still plans to skate, and was at practice in the afternoon after spending time at the Olympic village with her father, Normand.
“She’s going to get through this,” Canadian teammate Cynthia Phaneuf said. “She is just so strong. By being here and being able to compete after that happened, I’m just very impressed. I think she’s doing the right thing. She won’t get any stronger in her room.”
The women’s event begins Tuesday with the short program. Rochette will not speak publicly until she finishes competing, Skate Canada president Benoit Lavoie said.
“She’s so close to her mother, I think she doesn’t even entertain not skating,” said David Baden, Rochette’s agent. “She’s a tough fighter. It’s got to be hard to switch gears and say no to (the Olympics). This is what she has been training for all these years. She’ll be trying to fulfill the goal they had together.”
The 24-year-old skater is the couple’s only daughter. Therese Rochette was her daughter’s “No. 1 fan,” Lavoie said, and was always there for her. It was her mom who shuttled her back and forth to the rink when Rochette was younger.
Rochette had been in Vancouver since the opening ceremony, and her parents arrived Saturday from their home in Montreal. They visited Canada House and then went back to the apartment where they’re staying. Normand Rochette later found his 55-year-old wife passed out, and rushed her to Vancouver General, where Skate Canada said she was pronounced dead.
Normand Rochette went to the Olympic village early Sunday to break the news to his daughter.
“It’s a tragedy. I’m sort of in shock by it,” said Brian Orser, who got to know Rochette’s parents when he was touring with her on “Stars on Ice” in Canada. “I’m proud of her that she is continuing to compete because she’s a great competitor and she’s in great shape. And she’s skating for the right reasons.”
After spending the morning with her father and longtime coach Manon Perron, Rochette appeared in the runway as the rest of the skaters in her practice session took the ice.
“I didn’t expect her to come,” said Swiss skater Sarah Meier, one of the other five skaters in the session. “I think I wouldn’t be able to do the same thing if I was in her situation.”
Wearing black tights and a black Canadian team hoodie, Rochette swiped at her eyes and then paused at the boards, gathering herself. When she skated over to Perron to drop off her guards, Perron pointed out where here father was sitting. Rochette turned and gave a little wave to him – he was the only spectator allowed in the building when it was cleared for the security sweep before the original dance.
Though she was blinking hard her first few laps around the ice, Rochette quickly settled into her practice routine. She showed no lapses in concentration, jumped well and did a light run-through of her tango short program, even flashing a saucy smile at one point. In the stands, her father repeatedly rubbed his eyes.
“Joannie is doing as well as one can expect. It has been an emotional roller coaster for her,” Skate Canada CEO William Thompson said. “She made the decision that she wants to compete and maintain her training schedule. It is providing her with stability in a very uncertain time of her life.”
The few people in the rink applauded when Rochette finished her program, and again as she left the ice.
“I can’t even imagine what she’s going through,” Frank Carroll, who coaches Mirai Nagasu and men’s gold medalist Evan Lysacek, said, shaking his head. “It takes such strength to get out there and control your emotions just under normal circumstances. The only thing is if she’s in shock and is numb and can just go out there and do it automatically.
“It’s horrible,” Carroll added. “Horrible.”
Rochette will get her own room in the Olympic village; she had been rooming with Canadian ice dancer Tessa Virtue.
If Rochette needs other people to lean on, she can count on the support of her fellow skaters – from Canada and beyond. The Canadian team was told about the death before it was announced publicly, and the news spread quickly among the other skaters during practices at the Pacific Coliseum.
World champion Kim Yu-na, who trains with Orser in Toronto, said she “really felt sorry” for Rochette.
Added U.S. champion Rachael Flatt: “That’s really hard. I can’t imagine losing your mother, let alone at the Olympics.”
As the reigning world silver medalist, Rochette is Canada’s best chance to win an Olympic medal since Liz Manley won the silver in 1988, the last time the games were in Canada.
AP Sports Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.