Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rochette stays strong during difficult time

Says she'll skate Tuesday despite mother's death

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VANCOUVER -- There is no good time for the grief Joannie Rochette is feeling as she copes with the sudden death of her mother Therese.

There is only bad and worse and this is surely the latter.

It is an unthinkable burden for a 24-year-old, no doubt already feeling the expectations of medal-hungry Canadians at a home Games that seems to be slipping away, already skating under the weight of a silver medal from the 2009 world championships. But she's still here.

She took the horrible news delivered by her father Normand and longtime coach Manon Perron at 6 a.m. Sunday morning, that her 55-year-old mother and biggest fan had died of a heart attack, and she steeled herself.

"She demonstrated a lot of control," said Benoit Lavoie, Skate Canada president. "She remained composed. You had a feeling she was going back to her Olympic mode to cope."

It was no surprise to those who know her well that Rochette will compete Tuesday, nor that she practised her short program Sunday and did it without breaking down. Arriving last in her group, and after quickly wiping away tears, she took the ice, waved to her father and five family friends in the seats, and with chin high and a smile pasted on her face she got through what had to be an incredibly difficult skate.

Normand, wearing a red Canada Olympic team coat, dabbed at his eyes with a tissue as he watched his daughter's every move.

"Joannie is a very courageous person. Just to be there this morning (for) the practice I was very impressed," said her Canadian teammate Cynthia Phaneuf. "She's going to get through this. She's just so strong. I think she is doing the right thing. She is not going to get any better just staying in her room. She is maybe a person to look up to, yeah?"

Yeah.

Rochette has to do what feels right, and the only one who knows what that will be at any given moment now is her. She almost immediately told Skate Canada officials she will compete and though they are ready to support whatever decision she makes today, Tuesday or Thursday, they are convinced she will follow through.

That seems to be what everybody wants for her, what everybody thinks she needs.

"I know that she'll find the strength and the courage from her friends, her close friends, from her team, from her coach Manon, from the millions of fans who will be sending their thoughts and their love," said Brian Orser, a former Olympic skater and now coach of Korea's Yu-Na Kim, touted as the gold-medal favourite here.

"I'm proud of her that she's continuing to compete because she's a great competitor. She's in great shape and she'll be skating for the right reasons."

Skate Canada is taking their cues from Rochette from here forward. She had been rooming with ice dancer Tessa Virtue in the athletes' village and will now be afforded her own room.

Lavoie said there have been generous corporate offers of financial assistance with expenses for the Rochette family. There have been kind words of support from the Vancouver organizing committee, Hockey Canada and other sport organizations and athletes.

"That is absolutely devastating for her. I wish nobody else to be in the same situation that right now has happened to Joannie. That she has decided to perform is a very strong way," Russian silver medallist Evgeni Plushenko said through an interpreter Sunday morning. "Not everybody can do that. You have to be very strong to do that. Probably she will perform in memory of her mother."

"I just hope she gets through it quickly and gets back to compete," added Kim.

-- Canwest Olympic Team

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 22, 2010 C5

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