Skating four days after the sudden death of her mother, Rochette’s eyes watered when she looked down at her bronze medal. In countless interviews afterwards, in both French and then English, she cried and laughed, reminisced and then cried a little more.
Her mother was her best friend and biggest fan, she said, but also her biggest critic. “Even though she isn’t here anymore I’m not afraid to say it: Sometimes she was a pain in the —,” Rochette said as laughter filled the room.
During her performance of Samson and Delilah she two-footed and stepped out of a triple flip and afterwards her mother’s voice was in her head. “She would tell me, ‘What happened with the triple flip? It was so good in practice.’ ‘”
When she went into her final jump of her long program, a triple salchow, she felt she had nothing left to give. “My legs were shaking. I didn’t have much left in me,” she said. “I’m sure my mom was there because I had no more legs, but it happened.”
Therese Rochette, 55, had a massive heart attack just hours after arriving in Vancouver to watch her only child skate. Soon after, Rochette said she would continue to skate because that is what her mother would want her to do. “I had some moments in which I doubted myself and said, ‘I just want to go home.’ It wasn’t easy,” she said.
“I will remember this experience for all my life,” Rochette said after giving Canada its first women’s medal since Liz Manley‘s silver in 1988. She spoke eloquently about how she hoped her medal “inspires young skaters around Canada.” She reminded them if they fall a 10th time, to get up and try an 11th time. “I hope it will inspire a new generation of skaters.”
Though just 24, Rochette showed remarkable poise and strength amid such shock and such grief. “I was very lucky to have all these people around me. It would have been a much tougher experience if it happened anywhere else in the world.”
“I had to be Joannie the athlete and not the person. I had to be a competitor. I tried to be strong to make my mother proud and my father proud in the stands.”
Her father, Normand, and longtime coach Manon Perron, helped her through the week and she was touched by the messages of support she received from so many. More than two hours after she left the ice, a reporter asked Rochette why she graciously answered so many questions. After all, everyone would have understood if she just took her medal and went home.
“It’s important for me to do it,” Rochette said. This is what she would do after any competition. Then, she added, “It feels good for me to talk about it.”
And by talking about her mother, through laughter and through tears, it was if Therese Rochette was really here.
(photos provided by:Getty Images)