Mother of star Canadian figure skater dies

A few hours after learning of her mother’s sudden death,

Canadian figure skating star Joannie Rochette was back on the

ice.

Dressed in black tights and a black Canadian team hoodie,

Rochette appeared in the runway as the rest of the skaters in her

practice session took the ice Sunday afternoon. She wiped her eyes

and took a deep breath before stepping on the ice, then gave a

little wave to her father, the only spectator who was allowed in

the building – cleared about 45 minutes earlier for the security

sweep before the original dance.

Therese Rochette, 55, had a massive heart attack after arriving

in Vancouver on Saturday, said David Baden, Rochette’s agent. She

was taken to a Vancouver hospital, where she was pronounced dead

early Sunday, Skate Canada said.

“She’s so close to her mother, I think she doesn’t even

entertain not skating,” Baden said. “She’s a tough fighter. It’s

got to be hard to switch gears and say no to (the Olympics). This

is what she has been training for all these years. She’ll be trying

to fulfill the goal they had together.”

Rochette will not talk until after she finishes competing, Skate

Canada president Benoit Lavoie said. The women’s event begins

Tuesday with the short program.

“She’s going to get through this,” Canadian teammate Cynthia

Phaneuf said. “She is just so strong. By being here and being able

to compete after that happened, I’m just very impressed. I think

she’s doing the right thing. She won’t get any stronger in her

room.”

Rochette was blinking hard her first few laps around the ice,

but then seemed to settle into the comfort of her practice routine.

She showed no lapses in concentration, jumped well and did a light

run-through of her tango short program. She was applauded by the

few people in the rink after her program and again when she left

the ice.

“It’s a tragedy. I’m sort of in shock by it,” said Brian

Orser, who got to know Rochette’s parents when he was touring with

her on “Stars on Ice” in Canada. “I’m proud of her that she is

continuing to compete because she’s a great competitor and she’s in

great shape. And she’s skating for the right reasons.”

Joannie Rochette has been in Vancouver since the opening

ceremony, and her parents arrived Saturday from their home in

Montreal. Baden said Therese and Normand Rochette visited Canada

House and then went back to the apartment where they’re staying.

Normand Rochette later found his wife passed out and, when he was

unable to revive her, took her to Vancouver General.

Normand Rochette went to the Olympic village early Sunday to

tell his daughter of her mother’s death. He repeatedly wiped his

eyes as he sat in the stands and watched his daughter’s

practice.

Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada’s director of high performance, said

the Canadian team was told about Rochette’s mother’s death before

the news was announced publicly.

“We’ll do our best to manage it, but our first thoughts are

with Jo and her family,” Slipchuk said. “We’ll go step by

step.”

Rochette plans to continue staying in the Olympic village, but

she’ll be given her own room. She had been rooming with Canadian

ice dancer Tessa Virtue. Skate Canada is also being careful not to

crowd Rochette, letting her work through her emotions with her

father and Manon Perron, her coach since she was a child.

Perron appeared to be working hard to keep things light during

Rochette’s practice, smiling and laughing during their frequent

chats at the boards.

“They went through a lot together, and that’s what’s made it so

strong for them in their relationship,” Lavoie said. “I could see

Manon was the right person to be with her.”

If Rochette needs other people to lean on, she can count on the

support of her fellow skaters – from Canada and beyond. The news

spread quickly during practices at the Pacific Coliseum, and

Rochette’s competitors were united in sympathy for her.

World champion Kim Yu-na, who trains with Orser in Toronto, said

she “really felt sorry” for Rochette.

“I can’t even imagine what she’s going through,” Frank

Carroll, who coaches Mirai Nagasu and men’s gold medalist Evan

Lysacek, said, shaking his head. “It takes such strength to get

out there and control your emotions just under normal

circumstances. … It’s horrible. Horrible.”

Added U.S. champion Rachael Flatt: “That’s really hard. I can’t

imagine losing your mother, let alone at the Olympics.”

Jeff Buttle, the 2006 Olympic bronze medalist and a good friend

of Rochette’s said he was “shocked and saddened” when he learned

the news.

“Joannie is a strong person, and I am there to help and support

her in any way possible,” Buttle said in a statement. “The best

thing we can do for her is to respect her privacy at this

time.”

As the reigning world silver medalist, Rochette is Canada’s best

chance to win an Olympic medal since Liz Manley won the silver in

1988, the last time the games were in Canada.

“A medal would mean so much to me,” the six-time Canadian

champion said earlier in the games. “But I’m trying not to think

too much because I want to be happy in my performance and happy in

my career. I don’t want to define my life by what happened

here.”

AP Sports Writer Barry Wilner contributed to this report.