Rochette to compete despite mom's death

Therese Rochette, 55, dies in Vancouver hospital

By STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency


Canadian champion figure skater Joannie Rochette, from Quebec, practices on Sunday afternoon (after her mother died Saturday night) in Vancouver Feb. 21 at the Pacific Coliseum in Vancouver, B.C., on Sunday, Feb. 21. (MARTIN CHEVALIER/QMI AGENCY)



VANCOUVER — The Canadian Olympic team was rocked with the news that the mother of defending world championship silver medallist Joannie Rochette died early Sunday.

Therese Rochette died at Vancouver General Hospital. She was 55. The cause was not immediately known although there are reports she suffered a heart attack.

"Our sincere condolences go out to the Rochette family and our thoughts are prayers are with Joannie at this time," William Thompson, CEO of Skate Canada, said Sunday morning.

"We met with her this morning (Sunday) and she intends to compete at the Games. We will, of course, support any further decisions she makes in the upcoming days. She is very determined and is focused on competing here."

"Her parents had just arrived in Vancouver on Saturday from Montreal and her father Normand went to the Olympic village early Sunday to give his daughter the sad news, along with her long-time coach Manon Perron. Therese was rushed to hospital from their hotel not long after arriving from Montreal.

Normand Rochette said Sunday his daughter is strong, "stronger than me," adding that she is surrounded and supported by her teammates. Thompson said yesterday that competing might be the best thing for the 24-year-old skater at this time.

"One thing being at the Games, there are some pillars of certainty that competing may provide her in otherwise a very uncertain time in her life. There's the plan for training, the plan for competition. And at least it gives her something to look to beyond simply being in grief," said Thompson. "Maybe it will help her through this period of time."

The women's singles skating competition begins with the short program on Tuesday. An obviously emotional Rochette took to the ice for her Sunday afternoon practice but did not speak publicly.

"Obviously, right now it's a roller-coaster for her," said Thompson. "She's still in shock, it just happened. And like anyone, you just don't know how she's going to feel over the next few days."

Thompson said that Rochette decided very quickly she was determined to compete.

"Obviously, from our perspective, we'll support whatever decision she makes. If she feels differently in a day, that's fine," said Thompson.

"Her family is with her," said Canadian chef de mission Nathlie Lambert. "The people who was closest to her are with her. And we have (ex-Canadian team synchronized swimmer) Sylvie Frechette available for her. She's been through something similar (her boyfriend died) during a Games."

Rochette began skating at six and tried many sports when she was young and eventually stuck with skating.

"It's not something you decide to do when you start," she said prior to the Games. "My mother just put me in all kinds of sports when I was younger and skating is what I kept doing since then."

Thompson said that Normand Rochette and Skate Canada high performance director Michael Slipchuk allowed Joannie to sleep for a while before breaking the news to her about 6 a.m. Sunday.

Thompson said as of Sunday afternoon, Rochette had decided to stay in the village. Her roommate is ice dance skater Tessa Virtue of London, Ont.

"We've given Joannie a number of options and it will be up to Joannie to choose the option that works best for her," said Thompson. "We will accommodate what she needs. We can accommodate her outside the village, if she wants to stay in the village in her own room, we an accommodate that as well. I think she will stay in the village, in her own room."

Thompson said the other members of the Canadian figure skating team here have been informed by the coaches and team leaders of "the very sad news." Her ex-boyfriend, short track speed skater Francois-Louis Tremblay, is also at the village and has been informed of the news.

"I think the challenge for the team now is to keep the atmosphere good for the ice dancers who are still competing and I don't think Joannie would want anything adverse to happen to her teammates either," said Thompson. "I think we'll manage. Things you don't expect in life, you manage them the best you can."

Rochette finished second at the world championship last year and won the Skate Canada Grand Prix in Kitchener in November. She competed at the 2006 Turin Games and finished fifth.

Skate Canada has asked the media to respect Joannie's privacy. She will not be available for interviews until she is finished competition.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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