Olympics Winter

After death in the family, Rochette presses on

Hours after learning her mother had died of a heart attack, Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette was on the practice ice preparing her routine for the upcoming skating events on Tuesday and Thursday.

Just hours after learning that her mother had died of a heart attack here, the Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette was on the practice ice Sunday. In front of the near-empty stands at the Pacific Coliseum, Rochette — one of the favourites to win an Olympic medal — was sniffling as she warmed up, then ran through her short program, hitting jump after jump. Her father, Normand, was there to watch her and wiped tears through the practice.

Rochette, 24, did not speak to reporters afterward. She will remain silent until after the competition, Canadian figure skating officials said.

"Joannie is a very courageous person, and just to be here in the practice hall, I was very impressed," the Canadian skater Cynthia Phaneuf said after the training session. "I think she is doing the right thing. She won’t get any better staying in her room. It shows how strong she is. It shows that she is a person to look up to here."

Rochette, the silver medalist at the 2009 world championships, is expected to compete Tuesday in the short program and Thursday in the long program. That decision was made so Rochette could have some stability in her life, said William Thompson, the chief executive of Skate Canada.

Rochette, a six-time national champion, is considered Canada’s best chance for a women’s figure skating medal since Elizabeth Manley won the silver medal at the 1988 Calgary Games. Her parents — Normand and Therese — had flown here Saturday from their home in Montreal, to watch her compete. After a night out, Normand Rochette saw that his wife had collapsed and rushed her to the hospital, where she could not be revived, said David Baden, Joannie Rochette’s agent.

Baden said Therese Rochette, 55, was pronounced dead of a heart attack early Sunday. Brian Orser, the two-time Olympic silver medallist for Canada, said he knew Therese Rochette during his years of skating with Joannie on tour. "She was a very supportive mom," he said. "Supportive of the figure skating, but very much in the background of Joannie’s career. They had a really tight bond."

Normand Rochette broke the news to Joannie about 6:30 a.m., waiting for several hours while she slept at the athletes’ village. She had been sharing a bedroom with the Canadian ice dancer Tessa Virtue, who was to compete Sunday, but has since moved to her own room. "She had a normal reaction," Skate Canada’s president, Benoit Lavoie, said, adding that Rochette was quickly able to control her grief. "The thing that amazed me is that she was so composed, going back into her Olympic mode."

One by one, the skaters practicing on Sunday were told of the news. Some, including the Americans Rachael Flatt and Mirai Nagasu, were clearly shaken. Others had tears in their eyes when they found out.

"Oh, oh, my gosh," Flatt said. "Honestly, I feel so bad for her. I can’t imagine what it’s like to lose a parent, let alone at the Olympics, when you’re trying to compete your best."

For Nagasu, the news hit close to home. Her mother, Ikuko, was found to have thyroid cancer in October, Nagasu said, and has since had two operations and radiation treatments. Nagasu said that her mother was in her late 40s, and that the survival rate for that type of cancer was about 80 percent. "That 20 percent is still really hard to think about," Nagasu, 16, said. "The first few days were really tough for me. But the day after her surgery, she made us come pick her up so she could take me to the ice rink. She’s being strong, so I have to be strong as well."

Nagasu said that she would be skating for her mother here, and that it would give her more motivation to perform well. She thought Rochette would be inspired in the same way.

"I think this will spur her on to do even better," Nagasu said

Written by Juliet Macur, New York Times