Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Rochette pondering return to Olys

Tempted by Sochi, Canadian hero could put off retirement

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Joannie ROCHETTE is at a crossroads in her life, unsure which way she'll turn. One road could take her back to the Olympic Games -- this time in Sochi, Russia, in 2014. The other would lead to the rest of her life.

"I would love to be on the Canadian Olympic team once more, for sure," said Rochette, the 2010 Olympic bronze medallist who also competed in Turin in 2006, finishing fifth.

"I would like to go back and have an Olympic experience that is more light on the heart, to have a happy Olympics. But at the same time, it's a big commitment. You cannot do shows and travel as much, but I love to do shows," said the 26-year-old figure skater.

At the Vancouver Olympics, Rochette's mother Therese died of a heart attack just two days before her daughter was to compete. A grief-stricken Rochette carried on and with two gutsy and poignant performances captured hearts around the world.

"That does seem like a long time ago," the six-time national champion told the Free Press in a telephone interview ahead of her seventh, cross-Canada Stars on Ice tour.

After carrying the Canadian flag in the Olympics closing ceremony, Rochette went home to Quebec to grieve in private. She skipped the world championships (she won silver the year before) but soon after began an as yet endless series of ice shows, personal appearances and motivational speeches. As spokesperson for University of Ottawa Heart Institute, she released a workout DVD and collaborated with Birks to design a heart-shaped pendant to raise funds for the Institute's iheartmom campaign. A trip with World Vision, the official charity of Stars on Ice, took her to a fishing village in Honduras. Rochette seldom unpacked her suitcase.

Over three weeks with the Stars tour, she'll play 12 Canadian cities, stopping in Winnipeg on May 9 (7 p.m., MTS Centre). Also on tour are reigning Olympic and world ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, 2014 Olympic medal hopefuls Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, 2008 world champion Jeff Buttle and four-time world champion Kurt Browning, who choreographed this year's Love 'n' Life-themed show.

Since the 2010 Olympics, Rochette has competed twice against the who's who of women's skating at the invitational Japan Open. She won in 2010 and was second last year.

"I love to compete, but if I don't get invited again (to Japan) I'll still get back to training more intensely this summer because I want to be ready if I decide to compete again at the Olympics," she said.

"I don't want to go as a tourist (a non-contender). I want to be in great shape. For an athlete, it's always hard to go back to an Olympics after you've won a medal because you want to do better.

"I think I'll know (what decision to make) by how I feel on the ice. I love to skate and I think I'm still in good enough shape to go back but, at the same time, I could have other opportunities in my life," she said, continuing her one-person debate.

Rochette is already looking forward to a non-skating life -- finishing her college studies and one day having children. She has watched her boyfriend Guillaume Gfeller (a former Canadian ice dance competitor) make his own transition "to real life."

Skate Canada high performance director Mike Slipchuk plans to meet with Rochette sometime during the Stars tour to discuss her potential return to International Skating Union (ISU) competition. He wants to ensure she understands ISU Olympic eligibility requirements and Skate Canada's expectations before making her decision.

"If Joannie wanted to be part of the 2014 team, we'd love to have her. She's been a great competitor, a great role model for Canadian skating. Who wouldn't want her included in the mix?" said Slipchuk.

"Definitely Joannie would be among the top (competitors). She shows that each year at the Japan Open. Her experience and her international track record speak for itself," he added.

Since Rochette stepped away from ISU competition, her successors haven't come close to filling her boots. International results for the 2012 and 2011 national champions, Amelie Lacoste and Cynthia Phaneuf (also on the Stars tour), were dismal this season, relegating Canadian women to one entry for the 2013 world championships in London, Ont., where Olympic berths will be awarded.

Although Rochette might easily secure two berths with a top-10 result in London next year, her stated plan for now is to attend that event as a spectator.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 3, 2012 C6

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