When Joannie Rochette skated out to perform her short program in Vancouver at the recent Winter Olympics, she seemed so alone.
It was just two days since news of her mother’s death had woken her from early morning slumber at the Olympic Village, and it followed 48 hours of media speculation about what must have been going on around her as a world audience waited for this moment.
But Rochette was not alone.
She was, and would be for the following days, surrounded by a coach in Manon Perron, a father in Normand, and a support group that included friends and teammates, Skate Canada, national Olympic officials and even the International Olympic Committee, that came together and helped make possible one of the most memorable and courageous performances at the Games.
In an interview with CBCSports.ca last Friday, Perron walked us through what happened in those days, Rochette’s ultimate triumph and her later decision not to go to this week's world championships.
Sunday, Feb. 21, 2010 Vancouver, B.C.
Joannie Rochette's Winter Olympic hopes have taken a tragic turn. Therese Rochette, 55, mother of the Canadian figure skater, died early Sunday at Vancouver General Hospital, two days before her daughter is to take the ice in the women's singles competition … (CBCSports.ca)
Manon Perron: "Normand [Joannie's father] came to the village [that morning] to announce the bad news to me and to make a plan with me how we will tell the bad news to Joannie … I said to Normand, do you agree she should skate, it's going to be up to her, but I think if Therese would have been here, Therese would have wanted her to skate. So Normand said, 'yes, definitely.'
"But I said to Normand, if she doesn't want to skate I won't push her. It's going to be her decision …"
The six-time Canadian national champion and defending world silver medallist will stay in the competition Tuesday … (CBCSports.ca)
Manon Perron: "So, we had to replan everything. Instead of doing two practices a day like we were doing since we were at the Olympics, I said 'Okay, we're going to go to one but we're going to do it really like more than 100 per cent.'
"So, when we came back from the hospital, where [Joannie] saw her mom, I said 'Now, do you want to skate?' and she said 'Definitely, I want to skate.'
Rochette, 24, took to the ice Sunday afternoon for a practice session, frequently conferring with her coach … (CBCSports.ca)
Manon Perron: "[Joannie] said I'm going to do the first practice but I'll go easy, and I said 'No, no, no, no, if you do that practice we're going to start from now, and it's not going to be easy, it's going to be back to normal practices.'
"And she agreed right away and from there we practiced like we were practicing at home, instead of two [practices], making one because she was not sleeping well … not eating well."
"You know we were going into the rink and everybody was looking and each time everybody would hug her, she was crying, so it was hard, each time we were going back to the rink and you know the level of energy was really low because we were crying and it was really, really hard.
"So that was why we decided to go from two practices to one."
Monday, February 23, 2010 (One day from competition) Vancouver, B.C.
Figure skater Joannie Rochette's former high school in Trois Rivières, the Académie Les Estacades, has put out a video with students and staff touching their hearts and saluting Rochette, as she prepares to compete at the Olympics on Tuesday night in Vancouver …(Montreal Gazette)
Rochette did not speak to reporters afterward. She will remain silent until after the competition … (New York Times)
Manon Perron: "Everybody was so nice, so perfect. All the media, and all the people. We said now, we need our time because if we have to talk to the media, or talk too much about that situation, we won't be able to last until the short and the long.
"So please, let us be in our bubble and you know, after the long program is over, we're going to do whatever you want, we're going to do all the press conference, all the interview that you want.
"And everybody respected it a lot, it was amazing."
[Rochette] had been sharing a bedroom with … ice dancer Tessa Virtue … but has since moved to her own room … (New York Times)
Manon Perron: "The Olympic Committee allowed us to do so many things that we wouldn't normally be allowed to do, so everybody was supporting us.
"I said 'Okay, during the day I'm going to be with Joannie in the training and she'll talk with Wayne Halliwell, the sports psychologist, but you know when you go back in the village and you are by yourself and you go to bed, okay, it's the hardest part.
"So they allowed her boyfriend [ice dancer Guillaume Gfeller] to come and stay in the village and take care of her at night. It was awesome."
Tuesday, February 23, 2010 The Short Program
It isn't an exaggeration, not by a long shot. When she steps onto the ice at Pacific Coliseum Tuesday to perform her short program in the women's figure skating competition at the Vancouver Olympics, Canada's Joannie Rochette will face the most difficult skate of her life … (CBCSports.ca)
Manon Perron: "We kept the [performance] the same way, adapted a bit, because she was tired so she needed more rest, but the eating part, the preparation part, going ahead at the rink was the same, kept the same plan that we're using for the short program.
"The only thing that changed was that we had to have a place for ourselves not to be mixed with all the people, so we used the speed skater lounge [upstairs], so we were there by ourselves, and she was putting her music on, and off-ice training there and then we went back into the normal room, she put her dress on and we went on the ice like the others."
When it could not be put off any longer, Joannie Rochette of Canada slapped her coach's hands, took a deep breath and circled the ice, no doubt wondering along with everyone else whether her emotions would overcome her or inspire her … (New York Times)
Manon Perron: "You know, me knowing her so well for so many years, I know what button to push, I know what she will take and not take.
"So it was really, really good that I know her for a long time because I know how she handles things, how she handles hard situations, so I was knowing the right way to react and what to say to her [at the side of the boards before she skated].
"I always tell her the same thing, but on that night I said, 'Do it for yourself, and I believe in you so no doubt go for everything.' "
Two days after her mother died, Rochette skated a poignant Olympic performance Tuesday that was summoned from heartbreaking grief and extraordinary composure. She finished third in the short program on a night that will be remembered as one of the most stirring in Olympic figure skating history in terms of athleticism, artistry, emotion and challenges answered out of competitive fervor and aching sorrow … (New York Times)
Manon Perron: "It was a special moment, we were prepared, we were going for a medal for sure, but I never had a clue what could happen, never had any idea this could happen.
"So, yes, [I was] pretty proud of the way she skated, the way we handled things, all the support that all the Canadians and all the people around the world gave us.
"Oh, my God, yes [my heart was pounding]. I remember the three jumps perfectly but the rest is not clear."
Rochette, in tears, took a bow as the crowd gave her a standing ovation. She skated off the ice and fell weeping into the arms of her coach, Manon Perron … (CBCSports.ca)
Manon Perron: "You know, to handle this … I knew at that time that Joannie wanted me to be really strong [in the kiss and cry], you know when you feel what the other needs, you know how to react.
"The hardest part for her is always the short program. It was the best short program of her life, so we had a lot of confidence because for her going into the long, the long program is always easier, so I said 'OK, the hardest part was done.'"
Thursday, February 25, 2010 The Long Program
Joannie Rochette has already conquered the improbable. Now she'll attempt to do what many believed was impossible … (CBCSports.ca)
Manon Perron: "I tried to be like really normal and not talk about the situation and what was happening.
"I was talking a bit more than normally, 'OK you are ready, be confident that you can do this,' a lot of positive things going into that program because I knew the level of energy was really low because of the lack of sleeping and eating, but I had a lot of confidence at the same time."
Kim Yu-Na of South Korea blew away the competition and Canadian Joannie Rochette won the hearts of Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum crowd Thursday with a gutsy performance to earn an Olympic bronze medal just days after her mother's death … (CBCSports.ca)
Manon Perron: "I didn't learn a lot [about Joannie during this] because I knew she was really, really strong, so she proved it again.
"When she wants something she can go through really hard stuff, but she's going to get there anyway. The power of the will, when you want something, you go for it no matter what happens around, you focus and you do the job and after you can deal with the rest."
Monday, March 15, 2010 The announcement
Joannie Rochette has withdrawn from next week's figure-skating world championships, citing the emotional toll taken by winning Olympic bronze shortly after her mother's death … (CBCSports.ca)
Manon Perron: "When we came back from the Olympics, she had to make her decision, I gave her my opinion and I said after it's going to be your decision and you are going to call me and tell me what you decide.
"And you know, she wanted to go to the worlds. I'm sure she was waiting for me to say don't go there, it's too much, because this way she didn't let it go, she didn't decide I'm not able, she didn't make the decision by herself.
"She wanted to go there by herself [but] all the circumstances, the funeral, she didn't get enough time to train properly, but she really wanted to go there."
Post-script: Figure skaters love to push their "team" to the media, as in Team Chan, Team Virtue and Moir, etc. In this case, it was Team Rochette, Perron believes, that made the difference.
"You know, each part we used [Team Rochette] at the maximum," Perron says. "We had the sports psychologist, we had the doctor, we had our family around, we had Benoit Lavoie, (Skate Canada president), we had (technical director) Mike Slipchuk and we had all the people supporting us together.
"And we had all the fans from the world, and Canada, and Quebec supporting us, so it was not just a small team, it was a big team knowing each other for a long time and supporting each other for a long time."