Rochette poised for podium

By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency

VANCOUVER — In better times, Joannie Rochette would be right where she wanted.

Third place heading into the free skate.

She’s in medal contention at the Olympics, with stronger odds of moving up rather than falling off the podium.

But things are, of course, more complicated now.

These are not better times.

Her mother Therese has been gone four days.

Somehow, the Canadian figure skating star mustered the inner strength and courage to forge on.

“(Tuesday) was the hardest day,” Skate Canada team leader Michael Slipchuk said. “By far. Obviously, the first day (Sunday) was tough. I don’t think, until she verbalizes it herself, we’ll ever know what it took for her to skate the way she did.

“She skated with such poise. What we all saw was Joannie the competitor. It was remarkable.

“We really had no idea what to expect.”

Rochette has gone through an emotional and mentally-exhausting marathon. She poured her heart out in front of a teary-eyed Pacific Coliseum crowd.

“I was so proud of her,” said Brian Orser, the Canadian skate great who now coaches Korean gold-medal favourite Yu-Na Kim. “I can’t imagine what it took for her to skate the way she did. It was an inspiration.”

Added Canadian teammate Cynthia Phaneuf: “She skated like a computer. She shut down her emotions. We should all skate like that.

I’m sure she’ll do it again.”

All that’s left for Rochette now is to repeat the feat — for nearly twice as long.

“I think the day off (Wednesday) is huge,” said Slipchuk after Rochette’s practice. “I think she looked good. The long program has been a more comfortable skate for her. That was her best short all season. She has usually had to skate from behind.

“There have been some good moments for her here. We’ve tried to keep it as light as possible.

“And we’ve kept her inner circle really small. We’ve tried to limit it to just the people who she really needs right now.”

There’s her dad Normand, her coach Manon Perron, her boyfriend Guillaume Gfeller, and her sports pschychologist Wayne Halliwell.

Slipchuk quashed rumours there is funeral planned for Therese Rochette before the Games end. Joannie is expected to remain in Vancouver to the end of the Games.

“Everything’s moment-to-moment,” he said. “She’ll skate and then, we’ll see what’s next.”

Rochette’s story, for Canadians, has taken over from the Olympic coronation of Kim, who trains in Toronto and is coached by two-time Olympic silver-medal skater Orser.

“She’s a fierce competitor,” Orser said. “I thought it was perfect when I saw she was skating after Mao (Asada) in the short. When she put down a good score, Yu-Na knew what had to be done. She’s a lot like me that way. I wanted to see my rival to do well. When I saw them struggle, that’s when I tended to lose some of my focus.”

This time, Asada will skate right after Kim.

And as soon as they’re done, it’ll be Rochette.

Time to see if there’s room on the podium.

For both her and, in her heart, her mom.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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