Tragedy for Canadian figure skater on eve of competition at Vancouver Games

The Canadian Press ~ The News
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VANCOUVER - Tragedy has struck the Vancouver Olympics again, this time delivering a body blow to the Canadian team.
Skate Canada officials said Sunday that Therese Rochette, mother of figure skater Joannie Rochette, died overnight in Vancouver General Hospital. She was 55.
There was no immediate word on cause of death. A Skate Canada official said Rochette's mother collapsed Saturday night where she had been staying.
The 24-year-old from Ile-Dupas, Que. - the reigning world silver medallist and a six-time Canadian champion - still planned to compete, officials said. Her event starts Tuesday.
"We met with her this morning and she intends to compete at the Games," Skate Canada CEO William Thompson told reporters Sunday morning. "We will, of course, support any further decisions she makes in the upcoming days. She is very determined and we believe she is focused on competing here."
Rochette practised as scheduled Sunday afternoon. She came on the ice wiping her eyes.
"She may change her mind and that's fine too," chef de mission Nathalie Lambert said. "I think she owes it to herself to go on that ice, to have no regrets and fulfil that dream that she had. It's going to be really hard physically and really hard emotionally for sure."
"She's going to get the support of many, many Canadians in the toughest time of her life."
The news came just over a week after a Georgian luger was killed during a training run at the Whistler Sliding Centre only hours before the opening ceremonies.
Lambert says Rochette will be able to get counselling from the team's athletes' service officer Sylvie Frechette, a former synchronized swimmer who had a similar tragic experience prior to the 1992 Games in Barcelona. Frechette's boyfriend committed suicide just before those Games.
"I believe Sylvie is a good person to go talk to Joannie because she's lived something similar," said Lambert.
News of the death was released prior to a Canadian team briefing Sunday. Officials say Rochette's father Normand went to the athletes village Sunday morning to deliver the news.
A team official said they waited until 6 a.m. because Rochette was rooming with one of the ice dancers competing Sunday.
Liz Manley, a silver medallist at the 1988 Olympics, has been serving as somewhat of a mentor to Rochette in recent months. She told CTV she understood Rochette's wish to keep skating.
"It's not about a medal now for Joannie," said Manley, who lost her mother in July 2008. "It is about doing something that she has worked an entire lifetime for, something that her mom was at he side every step of the way. And to not follow through with that right now, I know what she's thinking. She's going to go out there and do it for the love of her mom and for her years of hard work."
Canadian team officials said Rochette would not speak to the media and Lambert asked reporters not to talk to other Canadian athletes about the death of Rochette's mother.
"We are deeply affected by something like that," Lambert said. "I don't think it adds to your story to get a quote from an athlete on how we're doing. We're doing the best we can with a situation that is a tragedy.
"They don't need to be asked. They are feeling it. They just need to keep this soft spot for Joannie, but at the same time business-as-usual to compete in that zone."
VANOC officials noted the death at their daily briefing.
"On behalf of the organizing committee for the Games, of our thousands of employees, volunteers and our partners, we offer our deepest condolences to Joannie and to the family and friends of the Rochettes," said VANOC spokesman Renee Smith-Valade.
"We've been informed the Joannie will continue to compete in the Games this week and we salute her courage and strength at this very difficult time," she added.
Rochette's website notes the role her mother has played in her skating career.
"Therese is the most faithful and most committed supporter of the accomplishments Joannie has had and will continue to have. For Joannie, her mother remains her most critical source to date, pushing her to her full potential."
Rochette's silver at the world championship was the first for a Canadian woman since Manley in 1988, the year Manley also won silver at the Calgary Olympics.
Rochette grew up in the tiny island community of Ile-Dupas, Que., which sits midway between Montreal and Quebec City on the St. Lawrence River.
Her dad, a kid's hockey coach, first took her skating at the age of four. She quickly rose up the ranks, winning the Canadian novice and junior titles in back-to-back years. She captured bronze in her senior national debut, and claimed her first Canadian crown in 2005.
The five-foot-two Rochette is one of just four members of the Vancouver team with Olympic experience, roaring back from a ninth-place result in the short program at the 2006 Turin Games to finish fifth overall.
Rochette is an athletic yet elegant skater who chose her programs to reflect her mature interpretation of the music.
Her short program is a tango to "La Cumparsita" by Gerardo Hernan Matos Rodriguez.
Her long program is a sultry number to "Samson and Delilah" by Charles Camille Saint-Saens - an ambitious program that builds to a crescendo, backloading the jumps for impact and effect.
In London at the national championships, she sailed through it virtually without a flaw, then pumped both fists in the air in jubilation - and smiled.
"Definitely, it's saying that I'm ready, I'm back," Rochette said that day. "It's the second part of my season and I'm starting with a new wind. That feels really good."
The performance marked a turnaround from a rocky start to the season.
A poor performance in the short program at her season-opening Grand Prix in China left Rochette having to claw back to finish third. She won Skate Canada but with a far-from-perfect performance, and then struggled to a fifth-place finish at the Grand Prix Final in Japan.
A perfectionist, Rochette decided to scale back on everything but training.
"One of my goals was to get to Vancouver and know that I did everything I could and have no regrets," she explained. "So at Christmas I stayed home, trained, said no to everything.

"It's like a cycle, the better you skate the more confidence you get and the more confidence you get the better you skate."

Organizations: Skate Canada, Vancouver General Hospital, Whistler Sliding Centre Calgary Olympics

Geographic location: VANCOUVER, Canada, Ile-Dupas, Que Barcelona Ile-Dupas Montreal Quebec City St. Lawrence River London China Japan

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