Rochette 3rd behind Kim, Asada
Canadian figure skater Joannie Rochette earned a standing ovation Tuesday night at the Vancouver Olympics, landing in third place for a short program skate just two days after her mother's sudden death.
Skating to La Cumparsita by Gerardo Hernan Matos Rodriguez, Rochette put on one of the best performances of her career under any circumstance, earning a personal-best 71.36 points in the short program at the Pacific Coliseum.
Therese Rochette, 55, suffered a massive heart attack early Sunday shortly after arriving in Vancouver to support her daughter. Normand Rochette reached the Olympic village to break the devastating news to his daughter.
Rochette won silver at last year's world championships and had been bidding to become Canada's first Olympic medallist in women's figure skating since Elizabeth Manley in 1988, but the tragic turn seemed to put marks and results on the back burner.
Rochette, 24, was focused and precise, however, earning high marks for her triple Lutz/double toe loop combination and spiral sequence.
The Île Dupas, Que., native finished with her combination spin and let the emotions go when the music stopped, clutching her chest and embracing coach Manon Perron.
"I think her mother gave her wings," Canadian chef de mission Nathalie Lambert told The Canadian Press.
Rochette and Perron don't plan to speak publicly about the death until the competition is finished.
But Rochette relayed a message through Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high-performance director, saying words couldn't describe what she was feeling.
"Hard to handle, but appreciate the support. Will remember this forever," Slipchuk relayed to reporters.
"When she took to the ice she looked like the Joannie that we've known and have grown with, and she was as good as she's been all year," he added.
"I think that's a testament to her, that she was able to get herself in the right frame of mind and do a clean short program that you have to do in the Olympic Games."
Cynthia Phaneuf, the last Canadian champion before Rochette began her six-year reign, earned 57.16 points for 14th place.
Back to back
Rochette's plight brought poignancy to the proceedings, and the two 19-year-olds many expected to battle for gold didn't disappoint the crowd with their performances.
The quirk of the draw had Mao Asada of Japan and Kim Yu-Na of South Korea skating back-to-back in the second-last flight.
Asada, the 2008 world champion, put the heat on the defending world champ by immediately landing her triple Axel/double toe loop combination and pulling out a triple flip. Asada, one of the few women who can land the triple Axel, earned 73.86 points.Kim, arguably under the most pressure of any athlete competing at the Vancouver Games, didn't buckle in her first step toward becoming the Golden Girl with her James Bond-inspired program choreographed by Canadian David Wilson.
Kim matched Asada's jumping ability — she performed a triple Lutz/triple toe loop combination and a triple flip — and showed her artistic side with a spiral sequence and layback spin.
She locked down top spot heading into Thursday's free skate with a world record 78.50 points.
Looking to become South Korea's first Olympic figure skating champion, Kim has been living in Toronto much of the time since 2006 in Toronto, being coached by former Canadian champion Brian Orser.
Kim has not lost since last season in the Grand Prix final, to Asada, a defeat many attribute partly to nerves that got to her performing in front of an expectant crowd at Goyang, South Korea.
Ando in 4th place
Miki Ando of Japan is a former world champion as well, winning in 2007. Skating last, Ando finished 6.6 points behind Rochette for fourth place.
Kim, Asada and Ando have accounted for seven of the nine podium spots in the last three world championships, with Rochette and Italy's Carolina Kostner taking the others.
Three-time European champion Kostner, who's often been dogged by nerves at world championships, looked confident but touched down on a triple Lutz, en route to seventh place.
Phaneuf, 22, appeared in great shape after nailing her opening double Axel and holding on the back end of a triple Lutz-double toe loop combination, but fell on a step sequence.
The Contrecoeur, Que., native — happy to be at her first Games after knee and ankle injuries threatened to put an end to her career a few years ago — was left smiling but scratching her head at the program's end.
The United States has had a presence on the podium in every women's competition since Peggy Fleming's 1968 victory, and two Southern California teens still have a shot at a medal.
U.S. national champion Rachael Flatt of Del Mar is fifth, with Mirai Nagasu of Arcadia in sixth.
Flatt, 17, converted her opening triple flip/triple toe and kept her balance on a triple Lutz for 64.64 points.
Nagasu, the 2008 U.S. champ, nailed her opening triple Lutz/triple toe loop combination and only got stronger from there.
She did it despite a nosebleed that struck at the most inopportune time.
"Halfway through the program, I felt it running down my nose and just said, 'Don't stop, keep going,"' Nagasu said. "I skated the best I can."
Coached by Frank Carroll, who's guided Evan Lysacek and Michelle Kwan, the 16-year-old finished with 63.76 points.
Nagasu, one of several skaters who publicly expressed sympathy for Rochette, is dedicating her performance to her own mother. Ikuko Nagasu will soon undergo radiation treatments for thyroid cancer, with doctors optimistic about her prognosis.
Georgia's Elene Gedevanishvili, the only legitimate medal hopeful for a country that suffered the tragic death of luger Nodar Kumaritashvili, landed a triple toe loop combination and finished with a personal-best 61.92 points for ninth place.
Gedevanishvili lives in Hackensack, N.J., training under former skater Robin Wagner, who coached 2002 gold medallist Sarah Hughes.
Akiko Suzuki of Japan was the hard-luck skater of the night and may have fared better in a different slot.
Suzuki, who won the Cup of China and finished third at the Grand Prix to give her contender status, was forced to skate right after Asada and Kim thrilled the crowd.
Suzuki recovered from an early touch-down on a triple flip to score 61.02 points for 11th.
With files from The Associated Press and Canadian Press