Rochette golden story of Games

By JIM KERNAGHAN, Special to QMI Agency

It is the most luminous bronze medal in Canadian Olympic Games history, because it transcends most of the normal hallmarks of athletic performance and is elevated into the sphere of spirituality.

Figure skater Joannie Rochette became the story of the Olympics after galvanizing a nation through her grief to perform at a level straining the upper reaches of human endurance in the face of personal desolation.

Hers is a story that will continue down through the years in Canadian Olympic lore, a story of deep sadness briefly vanquished by exceptional courage and the remarkable resilience of the human spirit. Her performance at these Olympics embodied all of the uplifting aspects of the Games.

The numbing shock of her beloved mother dying of a massive heart attack upon arrival in Vancouver last week would have been enough to wrench the competitive spirit out of many athletes. Most people would not have blamed her had Rochette pulled out of the competition altogether under the circumstances.

Instead, virtually in tears, she persevered through the pain of her profound loss to win a place on the podium through a performance that left only the kind of people who can really understand it, competitive people such as former gold medal winner Katarina Witt of Germany, in awe.

“To see how strong Joannie came out, you know it’s just — my heart just went to her,” Witt told The Canadian Press.

Canadian chef de mission, Nathalie Lambert, exhibited a strong grasp of what a mourner endures.

“It’s the kind of week where you eat very little, you sleep very little, you go through the motions and physically, that is not easy,” Lambert said. “She did one of the beautiful performances of her life in one of the most difficult moments of her life.”

Words such as “inspirational,” “extraordinary” and “memorable” were voiced by people from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, to Canadian Olympic Committee CEO Chris Rudge.

It was all of that and more to a nation on the edge of their seats. Could she shake off the gnawing loneliness of a life suddenly minus her mother, her unfailing support during Rochette’s rise to the upper level of world figure skating?

You sensed that throughout the country, an enormous television audience sat transfixed, trying to (ital)will(end ital) Rochette through her difficult long program, hoping the enormous weight she’d been bearing would not drag her down. It didn’t.

Korean Kim Yu-na laid down a spectacular program to win the gold. But to many Canadians, Rochette’s bronze — up from her fifth-place finish at the 2006 Turin Games — was as golden as it gets, and therefore must rank — in its unique perspective — as the Canadian story of the Games.

This is my no means any slight on the sparkling results by so many others, such as Canada’s first gold on home turf secured by Alexandre Bilodeau in freestyle skiing.

There were Humphrey and Moyse in bobsleigh, the captivating Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue in ice dance, Ashleigh McIvor in skicross, Maelle Ricker in snowboard cross, Jon Montgomery in skeleton and Christine Nesbitt in speedskating, the women’s hockey team and their continued domination over the Americans, all worthy gold-medal winners.

The Joannie Rochette saga is one that captured many hearts, including those of athletes throughout the Olympics, especially Joannie’s Canadian teammates. They all have mothers, too.

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