Olympics Winter

Kim wins figure skating gold, Rochette bronze

Kim Yu-Na of South Korea blew away the competition and Canadian Joannie Rochette won the hearts of the Pacific Coliseum crowd Thursday with a gutsy performance to earn an Olympic bronze medal just days after her mother's death.

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.

Kim earned a whopping 150.06 points in the free skate to finish with 228.56, breaking her own world record.

Joannie Rochette earned bronze, days after her mother passed away. ((Jamie Squire/Getty Images) )

Rochette, from Île Dupas, Que., came out strongly with a triple Lutz/double toe/double toe sequence while skating to Samson and Delilah by Saint-Saens, but landed awkwardly on a triple flip, eliciting a groan from the crowd.

The 24-year-old quickly regained her composure and impressed with her spiral sequence. Her remaining jumps weren't technically the best, but Rochette displayed her mettle by fighting to land them.

She scored 202.64 points to earn bronze. Rochette is Canada's first Olympic medallist in women's figure skating since Elizabeth Manley took silver in Calgary in 1988.

"I'm sure my mom was there with me with every step, and I'm really glad I could do it," she told CTV. "I still don't know how I could do this and not start crying before the music started."

Thérèse Rochette, 55, died of a heart attack early Sunday, shortly after arriving in Vancouver to support her daughter.

"Even with what happened, [hitting the podium] was still my goal ... and I'm just really proud I could skate," Rochette said.

She wiped away tears after accepting her bronze medal.

"I don't know about owning the podium, but I think we own the world's hearts tonight," Canadian Olympic Committee CEO Chris Rudge said. "That young girl performed on a level that is beyond comprehension.

"And I guess at this point you'd have to think that's the story of the Games."

Cynthia Phaneuf, 22, of Contrecoeur, Que., finished 12th.

Silver ceiling

Mao Asada of Japan had been in contention for gold, but the combination of a couple of bobbles in her program and Kim's flawless skate made silver her ceiling.

Kim became the first-ever figure-skating champion from South Korea. Her success comes with a strong Canadian connection, as she has spent much of her time since 2006 living and training in Toronto under the tutelage of former world champion Brian Orser.

Skating to Concerto in F by George Gershwin, Kim opened with a triple Lutz/triple toe loop combo and glided effortlessly on the ice with her triple flip.

It only get got better from there, with three more triples and a flying sit spin.

Canadian choreographer Sandra Bezic, working as a commentator for NBC, called it "glorious."

"This is simply one of the greatest Olympic performances of all time," said Bezic.

Kim had not lost in over a year, a defeat to Asada at the Grand Prix final in her native South Korea, and on this night she simply left no room for her longtime Japanese rival to overtake her.

Asada was in an unenviable position, following Kim, but she took to the challenge with a triple Axel followed by a triple Axel/double toe combination.

Her mistakes came in the middle of the program, an under-rotation on a jump and an error in her step sequence. Asada's score was 205.50 points.

But Asada proved once again a worthy adversary to Kim after beginning this season in rough fashion. She didn't qualify for the Grand Prix final after a fifth place showing in Moscow, and she finished 36 points behind Kim in the only event they both competed in, the Trophée Eric Bompard in Paris.

Asada, like Kim just 19 years old, becomes the third Japanese woman to receive a medal in the event. Midori Ito took silver in 1992 and Shizuka Arakawa a surprise winner in 2006.

U.S. shut out

For the first time in 44 years the United States did not have a woman on the podium, but the performances of Mirai Nagasu, 16, and Rachael Flatt, 17, could bode well for the Sochi Games in four years.

Nagasu and Flatt were fourth and seventh, respectively.

Nagasu of Arcadia, Calif., skated last, but after sitting sixth after the short program, she had too much ground to make up on Rochette. The irrepressible Nagasu put together a tremendous program to vault over Miki Ando and into fourth place.

Nagasu dedicated her performance in Vancouver to her mother, Ikuko, who is battling thyroid cancer.

Flatt of Del Mar, Calif., enhanced her reputation as a leaper, but the judges downgraded a couple of her triple jumps.

Ando of Japan was a threat to Rochette's medal hopes, sitting in fourth after the short program. The 2007 world champion started strongly with a triple Lutz/double loop combo and displayed elegance, but the program lacked pizzazz.

Laura Lepisto of Finland, 2008 European champion, held the lead going into the final flight of skaters. Lepisto earned a personal-best 126.61 points in the free skate to finish sixth.

Japan's Akiko Suzuki, the Cup of China winner this season, also impressed in the second-to-last group. Suzuki — who had the misfortune of skating immediately after Kim and Asada in the short program — improved from 11th to eighth place.

Phaneuf started strongly with a triple toe loop/double Axel combination, but then overrotated on her triple Lutz. She recovered with a couple of clean jumps, but then popped out of a planned triple Salchow.

South Korea's Kim Yu-Na, who trains in Toronto, dazzled with her free skate. ((Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press))

A stumble on an Axel occurred later, leaving her looking skyward at program's end. She earned 99.46 points for the skate.

The Canadian champion in 2004 before Rochette began her current six-year reign, Phaneuf was competing in her first Games, as her 2006 bid was derailed by a knee injury.

Phaneuf benefited from some underwhelming performances elsewhere in the field.

Two women who have been staples on the European championship podium in recent years struggled badly.

Three-time European champion Carolina Kostner of Italy touched down on her first jump attempt and fell on three others were en route to 16th place. Sarah Meier of Switzerland also had an outing marked by missteps, landing in 15th spot.

Elene Gedevanishvili of Georgia, impressive in the free skate, fell five spots to 14th.

The event concluded the figure-skating competition at the Vancouver Games, with the exhibition gala to take place Saturday evening.

The competition saw a further shift away from European winners, a process that began at the Torino Games. With 12 medals available, North American skaters won five and Asians won five.


Chris Iorfida

Senior Writer

Chris Iorfida, based in Toronto, has been with CBC since 2002 and written on subjects as diverse as politics, business, health, sports, arts and entertainment, science and technology.

With files from The Canadian Press