x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 January 2018

A medal for her mother

Competing four days after the death of her "biggest fan", Joannie Rochette glides away to a figure skating bronze for Canada.

Canada's Joannie Rochette gets a hug from her father, Normand, after winning a bronze.
Canada's Joannie Rochette gets a hug from her father, Normand, after winning a bronze.

VANCOUVER// Joannie Rochette betrayed little of her heartache as she gracefully glided to the Olympic figure skating bronze on Thursday and then wondered what her mother, who died four days earlier, would have made of her effort. Competing after the death of the woman she described as "my biggest fan, my best friend", the Canadian blew a kiss skywards at the end of her routine and was all smiles as she took her bow.

Rochette, 24, broke down in tears after Tuesday's short programme but put on a brave face to claim third place after Thursday's free skate. As she waited for her score, she told her mum she loved her - and got an emotional hug from her proud father, Normand. "I do not see myself as a hero," said Rochette. "When I stepped on to the ice I knew I had to be as cold as possible. My legs were shaking but my mother was there with me, giving me strength.

"It was almost like a relief going on the ice. I needed to be in a state of mind where I was Joannie the athlete and not Joannie the person. I was shaking but I knew that I would leave everything on that ice. "I'm really glad I did this because in 10 years from now when the pain has gone away a little bit I would've wished I had skated here. My mum told me last week, 'I'm sure you're going to get it, I know it', and that really gave me strength."

Therese Rochette, who was 55, died suddenly of a heart attack in Vancouver on Sunday soon after arriving from Montreal to watch her daughter compete. Joannie said it had been an emotional week for her to get through. "There were moments I just wanted to go home and be with my family, take care of my dad." Every jump she landed was cheered by a crowd willing her to do well, and the slight mistakes she made on the triple flip and a double Axel combination were met with sympathetic applause. "Rocket Rochette" and "Go Jo" read the banners as home fans erupted when it was confirmed that her 131.28 points for the free skate were enough to secure the third place she had occupied since the short programme.

Rochette, the six-time Canadian champion, wondered what her mother, who introduced her to the sport and drove her to the rink to train, would have made of her routine. "In school I'd get 98 - and she'd tell me where did you lose those two points? "[Today she would say]: That triple flip, why did you take it out - what's wrong? Why did you take out that double Axel?" But, Rochette added, "I know she'd still be proud of me."

South Korea's Kim Yuna dazzled to take the gold and Japan's Mao Asada recovered from a wobble to secure silver, but it was Rochette's poise in her turquoise dress that won the crowd's hearts. It was only when the bronze medal was placed around her neck that Rochette began biting her lip and fighting back the tears, but she recovered to clap her rivals and put a Canadian flag over her shoulders for a victory lap.

An extraordinary day of raw human emotion and unrelenting drama also saw the Norwegian cross country skier, Marit Bjoergen, become the first triple gold medallist of the Games and Canada win the women's ice hockey to stay level with Germany and the United States at the top of the gold medal standings. Canada beat the US women 2-0 in the final but the International Olympic Committee said they would "look into" their post-game celebrations, which included drinking beer and smoking cigars on the ice.

Earlier, Bjoergen, 29, covered the last leg of the 4x5km relay in front of a packed grandstand where Norway's King Harald V was watching. She grabbed a Norwegian flag and skied without using poles in the final few metres to her fourth podium finish in four events. "This has been so great. I had a dream of winning one gold medal and now I have three so this has been a wonderful Games for me," said Bjoergen.

* Reuters