Country behind Rochette

By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency


Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette practices her routine Monday, Feb. 22, 2010 at the Pacific Coliseum. (DANIEL MALLARD/QMI AGENCY)

VANCOUVER — Figure skater Joannie Rochette will represent Canada with a heavy heart.

She will be backed and cheered by 34-million people — all with lumps in their throats.

The six-time Canadian figure skating champion and Olympic medal contender practised again Monday afternoon. Skate Canada president Benoit Lavoie, who has known Rochette since she was 12-years-old, said “it looks good” she will hit the Pacific Coliseum ice Tuesday night to perform her short program just two days after the sudden death of her mother Therese in Vancouver.

“I am more than amazed by her,” Lavoie said after Rochette went through her La Cumparsita short program on the Olympic ice. “I am so proud. The physical is there. Now, it’s just a matter of being able to push the buttons. She and (coach) Manon Perron, they are the right people for each other in this situation.

“It looks right now like she will skate. We know she wants to compete. But a situation like this, it’s day-to-day and we’re making sure that Joannie does what’s the best thing for her.

“She could practise (Tuesday), go through warmup and then decide one minute before that there’s a change of plans. We’re prepared for whatever she decides and support her.”

Rochette, wearing all black, hit the ice after waving to her father Normand, her ice-dancer boyfriend Guillaume Gfeller and family friends who travelled here from Ile Dupas, Que in one corner of the Coliseum.

Tuesday, she will have support from the entire rink — and beyond.

“I think she’s going to receive a wind of love (Tuesday) night when she steps on the ice,” Canadian Olympic Committee team leader Nathalie Lambert said. “And she’s in a situation now where she can’t lose.

“If she doesn’t skate, we’ll love her. If she does skate, and do well, we’ll love her, and if she does skate and doesn’t do well, we’ll love her. And that’s the most important thing.”

She has been strong in practice.

She nailed her jumps and combinations. Her spins and footwork looked sharp under the watchful eye of Perron.

She has spent some time with her support team and she has sports psychologist Wayne Halliwell at her disposal.

She has remained in the Athletes Village on the same floor as the rest of the Canadian figure skaters.

But no one can prepare her for what she’ll encounter on that ice.

“I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” Skate Canada team leader Mike Slipchuk said. “When Joannie takes the ice, we’ll all have it (a lump in their throats). The whole team will. It’ll be emotional.

“We’re just here to support her and her quest to win an Olympic medal or, even, to become Olympic champion.”

Lambert said Therese Rochette would’ve wanted her daughter to compete.

“She’s doing incredibly considering the fact that (Sunday) was the worst day of her life,” Lambert said. “She’s handling everything with lots of strength and courage and I saw her (Sunday) night, we spoke, and she has a smile on her face. She’s very emotional, obviously.

“She really wants to stay here and skate. That was her dream, and that was also her mother’s dream, to be here and watch her skate.

— with files from Steve Buffery and Bob Mackin

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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