Canada’s Joannie Rochette fought back tears for her entire heart-wrenching short program. When she finished, she couldn’t hold back.
Skating two days after her mother’s death, Rochette finished third in the short program Tuesday night at the Vancouver Olympics. Technically, it was almost perfect. Emotionally, it was exhausting.
Rochette put her hand to her mouth to stifle her cries while taking her bows, her eyes wet. After waving to the fans in each corner of Pacific Coliseum, she headed to the end boards, where coach Manon Perron waited. They hugged tightly as Rochette buried her head in Perron’s shoulder and wept.
With fans still applauding her performance, the 24-year-old skater composed herself and awaited her marks. When she saw she was third, Rochette again began sobbing while blowing kisses to the crowd and patting her heart.
“I have no regrets,” she said in a statement released by Skate Canada. “It was a very nice warm welcome — hard to handle, but I appreciate the support. I’ll remember this forever.”
“She had me in tears,” Skate Canada CEO William Thompson said. “The level at which she skated was phenomenal. I watched her when she was getting ready to skate and she looked like she was struggling emotionally. Then she just pulled herself together and went out and put down a performance that was magical and so heroic.”
Therese Rochette died Sunday from a massive heart attack at age 55, just a few hours after arriving in Vancouver to watch her daughter compete.
The reigning world silver medalist remained seated for several moments even as Julia Sebestyen began her program. She needed assistance from two members of the Canadian team as she left through the runway that leads backstage.
“When she took to the ice, she looked like the Joannie that we’ve known and grown with,” said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s director of high performance. “She was as good as she’s been all year. It’s a testament to her that she was able to get herself in the right frame of mind and right mode to go out there and do the clean short program you have to do at the Olympic Games.
“I think we all saw when she finished the emotion that has been in there. This was a big step for her today and it’s good she gets a day off tomorrow, and she’ll be ready to go for the free. She’s here to try to win a medal if not win the whole thing,” Slipchuk said, “and she’s going to continue on that.”
She’s in position for that medal, which would be Canada’s first in this event since Liz Manley won silver in 1988, the last time the country hosted the games. Rochette has a cushion of more than six points over fourth-place Miki Ando of Japan and is less than three points behind Mao Asada for silver.
During the NBC broadcast of Rochette’s routine, the network identified a spectator as Rochette’s father, Normand. NBC later said the spectator was actually a family friend, Denys Valiquette, and apologized.
NBC Olympic late night host Mary Carillo read a statement on air that said: “We were given his seat assignment by Skate Canada. It turned out that information was incorrect. We are deeply sorry for the mistake.”