Strong showing for emotional Rochette

By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — Joannie Rochette started crying the moment she stopped skating.

She knew it was good. No one but her knew what it took.

The crowd exploded. She held her hand over her heart.

There’s much angst over Own the Podium, medal counts, finishing first and what’s gone awry with the Canadian men’s hockey team.

Then along comes Rochette.

The Canadian women’s figure skater, who decided to compete after her mother Therese died Sunday in Vancouver, hit the Olympic ice at the Pacific Coliseum Tuesday night.

She was brilliant, good enough for 71.36 points, behind Korean sensation Yu-Na Kim (78.50 points) and Japan’s Mao Asada (73.78) heading into Thursday’s free skate.

But suddenly, gold, silver and bronze look a little shabby next to this kind of strength and courage.

And how would you like to be Hungarian Julia Sebestyen, who had to skate right after Rochette?

These are the moments, when the six-time Canadian champ hit the ice with a heavy heart, when the Olympics aren’t just about medals anymore.

There’s a reason the IOC had a successful and touching marketing campaign: Celebrate Humanity.

Here it was in its purest form with Rochette on the ice, celebrating her mother’s life and influence despite her raw personal pain.

There is nearly always a special bond between figure skater and mother — from beginning to end. German teen Sarah Hecken begged her mom to buy her a pair of skates when she was not yet two years old. She’s at these Olympics.

Russian Alena Leonova started up after her mother read an announcement about skating classes. She’s here in Vancouver.

Italian Carolina Kostner followed in the family business. Her mom was a nationally ranked skater, her dad a hockey player.

And there was the 24-year-old Rochette, from little Ile-Dupas, Que., who didn’t intend to be a figure skater at first, but through her mother’s support, her obvious talent and her determination to compete made it to not one Olympics in Turin four years ago (she finished fifth) but also arrived in Vancouver in these, her second Games.

Medal hopes have been replaced by, simply, hope.

Figure skating, Patrick Chan said last week, can be a lonely sport. That’s why the skaters surround themselves with a team of people they trust: coaches, family and friends.

Teammate and rival Cynthia Phaneuf was up first.

She scored a season-best 57.16 points despite what she called a “stupid” fall on a step sequence.

“The crowd was warm — Jess (Dube) and Bryce (Davison), Anabelle (Langlois), Cody Hay, they all told me to use the home crowd and I did that,” she said. “For sure, we’re all supporting Joannie. She’s a strong person. We can’t imagine what she going through but when we get to the rink, we all have to do our jobs.”

Like American rising star Mirai Nagasu, whose nose started to bleed halfway through her skate, which she figured was because of Vancouver’s dry air.

Her popular Pirate of the Caribbean romp scored 63.76 points, but she felt like it’s not enough for medal contention.

Rochette doesn’t bear the weight of trying to salvage these Games for Skate Canada. Her old village roomie — ice dancer Tessa Virtue — along with partner Scott Moir took care of the pressure Monday night.

They, in part, hoped their dance to gold would help inspire Rochette.

“I can’t imagine what she’s going through,” Virtue said. “She has a lot of great people around her. We wish her the best.”

Added Moir: “She has all our full support. We’re all rooting for Joannie in this extremely difficult time.”

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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