Canadian crowd helps lift Rochette

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VANCOUVER - The applause began before her name was even announced.

“From Canada ...” the Pacific Coliseum crowd heard. And everyone cheered before the announcer could even say “Joannie ... Ro-chette.”

At ice level, before she had taken her first steps of the seven-minute practice, she looked like she was going to cry. She looked like she wasn’t sure if this was the right thing to do, if maybe this was too soon.

She had that look of uncertainty and then she skated onto the ice for warmup, all the while being saluted by the pro-Canadian crowd at the Olympic Games.

There are moments to remember and cherish in every Olympics — moments that take your breath away, moments that make you admire what is about these Olympians, moments that seem to stop time — and this was certainly one of them.

Rochette cried. Fans cried. We cried along with her. And an arena and a country cheered and applauded and wept and watched in amazement. You can prepare all your life for the Olympic Games, but there is no way to prepare for losing your mother on a shocking Sunday and skating two days later.

Somehow, on Tuesday night, there was an inner strength, a remarkable, heroic fortitude by a heartbroken woman trying to find her way.

As she began her routine as the 26th skater of a very long evening in the women’s short program, flags were being waved, people were standing, cameras were clicking and Rochette stood by the boards talking to her coach, breathing heavily, her eyes terribly sad, her expression grim, her body almost shaking.

And then she skated.

Skated, maybe, like she never has before.

The best short program marks she has had all season was 70. On her first Olympic night, with emotions flaring and a certain trepidation in the building, she had her best short program of the season - a 71.36.

She nailed all her jumps the way she had to and when she finished she was in medal contention, and how did she possibly summon the strength to do all that?

Before the scores were posted, the crowd knew. Maybe she did, too.

There were bouquets being tossed from all sections of the crowd, the roar seemingly unending. It has probably been 28 years since this building, the former home of the Vancouver Canucks, rocked like this, 28 years between these kinds of emotional events.

Last time, it was for a Canucks team trying to win the Stanley Cup. Tuesday night, it was for a Canadian skater, known before the Games as a medal hope, now known for a tragic reason.

When it ended, Rochette waved to the crowd, curtsied to all four sides of the rink and held her face tight hoping to keep her emotions in check.

The applause continued well into her score being announced, but before Rochette had exited the ice, she burst in tears and was visibly shaking when she hugged her coach, Manon Perron. The hug looked like it would never end.

After it was over, the high performance director of Skate Canada, Michael Slipchuk, briefly spoke to Rochette, who will not be conducting any interviews until after she has completed the competition. Rochette was pleased with her skate, as pleased as she could be considering the circumstances.

“I asked her how she was feeling,” Slipchuk said, “And she said words cannot describe it.” Rochette also said she appreciated the “very nice warm welcome” from the fans but found it “hard to handle.”

“We’ll remember this forever,” she told Slipchuk.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca


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