in winning bronze for her mother:
Joannie Rochette’s bottom lip
quivered and the tears finally came as she bowed her neck to be adorned
with a bronze medal that felt more like gold. A week of incomprehension
and bewilderment, of professional fulfilment amid personal emptiness,
culminated on the most cherished steps of the Pacific Coliseum as the
girl who became Canada’s favourite daughter realized a dream in the
midst of a nightmare.
Few glances and gestures to the heavens in a sporting arena have
meant as much as this one, as Rochette reached upwards to salute her
mother Therese, who died of a heart attack in the early hours of Sunday
morning. Joannie Rochette honoured her mother with her grace and class
and incredible fortitude – all attributes Therese tried to instil in her
“My mother was my biggest fan, my best friend. “She wasn’t confident
for herself but she wanted the best for me. She would cheer me up when I
was sad. She would put me down a bit when I got too proud. “Most of all
I wanted to make her proud.”
Rochette had little option but to lay herself bare on the Vancouver
ice and hope against hope that muscle memory and perhaps a smattering of
help from above would pull her through. And it did. There were two minor
errors but no falls during Thursday’s free skate, and the display was
enough to secure a medal she didn’t need in order for her Games to be
considered a triumph.
“I am happy to be on the podium,” Rochette said. “That was my goal
coming here and a lifetime project with my mom – and we achieved that.
“I don’t know how I could skate, my legs were shaking.
I don’t know how I did it, my mind was not here. But I am glad I did
and 10 years from now when the pain has gone a bit I would wish I skated
here and I know that’s what my mom would want me to do. “I feel proud
and the result didn’t matter.” There may be no truer words spoken during
these Winter Olympics. In a circumstance when mere participation would
have been enough.
Tears trickled down Rochette’s face and onto the ice, just like they
spilled from countless faces in the Pacific Coliseum crowd, where the
24-year-old’s father Normand sat feeling a mixture of pride and loss.
Every jump was met with a collective intake of breath from 11,000 fans,
every spin followed by a sea of eyes and hearts. The method of coping
used by Rochette, utilizing an inner steel that bordered on defiance,
just made the public want to embrace her even more.
Joannie Rochette is a quiet girl from a tiny town in Quebec, where
she will return to reflect on the rollercoaster of emotion she has
survived. Yet she has left a mark on Vancouver and on everyone who
witnessed her personal struggle. She provided these Games one of its
most iconic moments.