Olympic figure skater Joannie Rochette, in her mother's words

Thérèse Rochette, mother of Canadian Olympic figure skater Joannie Rochette, expressed deep pride in her daughter during a January interview with the Monitor. Joannie will skate tonight despite the sudden passing of Mrs. Rochette shortly after she arrived in Vancouver.

By , Staff writer

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    Joannie Rochette trains for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics Monday. The Canadian figure skater will compete Tuesday night, despite her mother’s sudden passing Sunday.
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Canada was rooting for Olympic figure skater Joannie Rochette long before the news came of her mother’s sudden passing Sunday, shortly after arriving in Vancouver to see her daughter compete.

But now, the whole country has rallied behind Rochette, a medal contender, with an outpouring of love that would have won straight 6.0s under the old scoring system.

“I think she’s going to receive a wind of love [Tuesday] night when she steps on the ice,” said Canadian Olympic Committee team leader Nathalie Lambert, according to Reuters. “If she doesn’t skate, we’ll love her. If she does skate, and does well, we’ll love her, and if she does skate and doesn’t do well, we’ll love her. And that’s the most important thing.”

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That love mirrors the unfailing support Rochette’s mother, Thérèse, strove to express toward her daughter through long years on training and competition.

In a January interview with the Monitor, Mrs. Rochette described the approach she took toward her Joannie’s skating.

“I always encouraged her to have confidence in herself, to believe in her dreams, to consider the progress that she has accomplished over many years,” said Mrs. Rochette, who conducted the interview in French, via e-mail. “But in periods of great stress, I also have the necessary distance to remind her of a rule she knows well: above all, skate for herself, for her pleasure.”

That may be a tough rule for Rochette to follow when she glides onto the Olympic stage Tuesday night, as planned. For those who know her and her mother, they say she’ll muster the strength and skate for her mother – because that’s what Thérèse would have wanted.

Motivated to rise above challenges

Mrs. Rochette was the first person her daughter would call whenever there was a problem, she said, adding that usually, Joannie was so resilient she didn’t need a lot of support.

“The hurdles she faces motivate her to rise above them,” Mrs. Rochette said. “Joannie has always been naturally determined and persevering.”

That was certainly on display Sunday afternoon and Monday, when Rochette ran through her practice run with perfect poise – if a few tears. She nailed her jumps and spins – the ones that make her one of a few skaters who have the technical ability to challenge Korean favorite Kim Yu-Na for gold.

Her father, Normand, was in the stands, along with ice-dancing boyfriend Guillaume Gfeller and a few family friends.

No family vacations

Normand and Thérèse, like virtually all figure skating parents, invested not only a great deal of financial resources, but also nearly all their free time to support their daughter’s dream.

“But the greatest effort to make, as far as I’m concerned, was to deprive myself of her presence when she was so young,” said Mrs. Rochette, explaining that her daughter had effectively left home at 13 to train at a sports school in Trois Rivières, Québec. “That was a very great sacrifice, because she was an only child. I missed her a lot and those years are escaped for good. We didn’t have any more family vacations, because Joannie had to enroll in summer camps outside Québec to improve herself.”

But while Mrs. Rochette expressed a tinge of sadness, she had no regrets.

“Even though Joannie also sometimes found this separation difficult, I knew she was happy with her choice,” she said, emphasizing that it was her daughter who pushed hard for the opportunity to make progress. “And when I see her joy, I tell myself that we did the right thing to bend to her demand … and to accept her repeated and often very long absences.”

'We couldn't be more proud'

In addition to the absences, there were many nail-biting moments to endure as Joannie made her debut at senior nationals – winning bronze; as she competed at the 2006 Games – moving from ninth to fifth with a brilliant long program; and as she won Canada’s first medal at World Championships last year since 1988, a feat she was looking to repeat here in Vancouver.

"It's because we love her that we agreed to live through all the stress from the top of the stands," she said.

While Mrs. Rochette will not be in the stands to see Joannie compete in front of a whole nation, her pride and adoration will be very much present.

“We are aware that [Joannie’s past successes], and especially the Olympic Games are unique moments that she will remember her whole life,” said Mrs. Rochette, speaking for her husband as well. “In our eyes, however, she long ago proved what she had to prove. An Olympic medal would be a bonus; we would be very happy, but we couldn’t be more proud than we already are.”

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