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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, February 21, 2010

Winter Olympics: Mother of star Canadian figure skater dies

AP National Writer

VANCOUVER, British Columbia The mother of Canadian figure skating star Joannie Rochette died Sunday, two days before Rochette is to begin competition.

Therese Rochette, 55, died Sunday at a hospital in Vancouver, Skate Canada president Benoit Lavoie said. No cause of death was announced. Rochette still plans to compete, Lavoie said, and was at the Olympic village with her father, Normand, who broke the news to his daughter early Sunday.

Joannie Rochette has been in Vancouver since the opening ceremony, and her parents arrived Saturday from their home in Montreal. The women's short program is Tuesday, and the final Thursday.

"We are all shocked and saddened," 2006 Olympic bronze medalist Jeff Buttle, a fellow Canadian and good friend of Rochette's, said in a statement. "Joannie is a strong person, and I am there to help and support her in any way possible. The best thing we can do for her is to respect her privacy at this time."

Rochette has two practices scheduled Sunday, but Lavoie said she won't talk until the competition is complete. Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high performance director, said the rest of the Canadian skating team was told the news before it was announced publicly.

"We'll do our best to manage it, but our first thoughts are with Jo and her family," Slipchuk said. "We'll go step by step."

The Canadians' practice session isn't until Sunday afternoon, but news of Rochette's mother's death spread quickly at the Pacific Coliseum.

"I can't even imagine what she's going through," Frank Carroll, who coaches Mirai Nagasu and men's gold medalist Evan Lysacek, said, shaking his head. "It takes such strength to get out there and control your emotions just under normal circumstances. ... It's horrible. Horrible."

Added U.S. champion Rachael Flatt: "That's really hard. I can't imagine losing your mother, let alone at the Olympics."

As the reigning world silver medalist, Rochette is Canada's best chance to win an Olympic medal since Liz Manley won the silver in 1988, the last time the games were in Canada.

"A medal would mean so much to me," the six-time Canadian champion said earlier in the games. "But I'm trying not to think too much because I want to be happy in my performance and happy in my career. I don't want to define my life by what happened here."