Rochette skates to bronze

Performance inspires a nation

By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency


Joannie Rochette of Canada performs her routine during the women's free skating figure skating event at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics February 25, 2010. (REUTERS/David Gray)

VANCOUVER — This, for the first time in the last two weeks, wasn’t about a Canadian medal.

This was about a daughter and her mother. This was about dealing with ultimate loss while on the biggest stage and finding the courage to follow through.

The first looming question when Joannie Rochette’s mother Therese died Sunday shortly after her arrival in Vancouver was this: would the six-time Canadian figure skating champion be able to compete?

Yes, she would.

Then, it became how well could she skate, particularly the burr-in-her-saddle short program, under these extreme circumstances?

Better than anyone could imagine.

And Thursday night at the swirling emotional cauldron the Pacific Coliseum had became, everyone watched and waited to find out the answer to one more incredible, impossible-to-fathom, question.

Could Rochette actually find the strength to do this? Could grief and belief hold hands on the razor-edge of a 24-year-old Canadian’s skate blade?

Now, there are no more questions.

Third place. A bronze for the ages. A wave and kiss to the sky.

“I feel proud and the result didn’t matter but I'm happy to be on the podium,” Rochette said. “This was a lifetime project with my mom and we achieved that.”

This season’s journey began for Rochette, a world silver medallist and fifth place in Turin four years ago, with a pep talk.

It came from Elizabeth Manley, the last Canadian female figure skater to earn an Olympic medal on home ice, at Calgary 22 years ago.

Manley met with Rochette and marvelled at how much their career paths were the same. Manley went from lurking just off the podium at worlds to nearly blowing past East German star Katarina Witt after an unforgettable Olympic skate, settling, in the end, for one of Canada’s most surprising silver medals.

She gave Rochette some advice from experience gained from taking part in a home Games.

She could have never imagined, as Rochette attempted her own Manley moment, how difficult it could be.

Korean teen Yu-Na Kim is, already, a more formidable foe than Witt was in Calgary. She won it easily with a world record score of 150.06 for the free skate and 228.56 total.

She’s trained in Toronto by Canadian star Brian Orser, who finally gets the gold as a coach.

Kim, in her competition with Japanese stars Mao Asada and Miki Ando, had been yoked with the hopes of a nation involved in a historic and political feud that has, in a symbolic sense, attached itself to figure skating. Orser would have none of it.

How, after watching Rochette skate, could petty politics be at all important?

This isn’t about countries.

But there is little debate now over who the Canadian Olympic Committee should select to carry the flag at the closing ceremony.

Rochette might not want to do it. It may be too big a cross to bear right now.

Had it not gone this way, Alex Bilodeau would’ve been the easy choice.

The moguls king won the long-awaited first gold medal by a Canadian on home soil. He was inspired because of his relationship with older brother Frederic, who has cerebral palsy.

But Bilodeau’s medal was, though not his fault, all about being first.

This is about something more. It’s no surprise the day after Rochette skated her short, the inspired Canadians had their best day here with four medals, all by women.

“I will never forget what she did,” said Clara Hughes, the 37-year-old speed skater who capped her career with a bronze. “Watching her I just thought ‘I have nothing to fear tomorrow.’”

There had been concern, particularly in American pockets, that Rochette’s story could influence judges and earn her sympathy marks.

“Joannie is a great skater,” American Rachael Flatt’s coach Tom Zakrajsek said. “I don’t think the judges would score her higher. They would score her as she skates. The results from (Tuesday) were very fair.”

This stopped being about marks. It was never about medals.

Just a daughter’s love for a mother lost.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca

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