Posted: Feb 21, 1:30p ET | Updated: Feb 22, 8:32p ET

Canadian figure skating star's mother dies

Rochette still plans to compete at Olympics
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VANCOUVER (AFP)  Joannie Rochettewas right where her mother would have wanted her to be.

Hours after her mother died of a massive heart attack, Rochette eased onto the ice at Pacific Coliseum to practice Sunday. It was a profile in courage and devotion by Canada's hope for a women's figure skating gold medal at the Vancouver Olympics.

Dressed in black, Rochette wiped her eyes and took a deep breath. She briefly waved to her father, Normand, who was in the stands, then went about her business with the heaviest of hearts.

"I didn't expect her to come," said Swiss skater Sarah Meier, one of the other five skaters in the session. "I think I wouldn't be able to do the same thing if I was in her situation."

Therese Rochette, 55, died just a few hours after arriving in Vancouver to watch her daughter compete. Her daughter still plans to skate in the short program Tuesday night. As the reigning world silver medalist, she is Canada's best chance to win an Olympic medal since Liz Manley took the silver in 1988, the last time the games were in Canada.

"She's so close to her mother, I think she doesn't even entertain not skating," said David Baden, Rochette's agent. "She's a tough fighter. It's got to be hard to switch gears and say no to (the Olympics). This is what she has been training for all these years. She'll be trying to fulfill the goal they had together."

The 24-year-old skater is the couple's only daughter. Therese Rochette was Joannie's "No. 1 fan," Skate Canada president Benoit Lavoie said. It was her mom who shuttled her back and forth to the rink when Rochette was younger.

"Joannie is doing as well as one can expect. It has been an emotional roller coaster for her," Skate Canada CEO William Thompson said. "She made the decision that she wants to compete and maintain her training schedule. It is providing her with stability in a very uncertain time of her life."

Rochette had been in Vancouver since the opening ceremony, and her parents arrived Saturday from their home in Montreal. They visited Canada House and then went back to the apartment where they're staying. Normand Rochette later found his wife passed out, and rushed her to Vancouver General, where Skate Canada said she was pronounced dead.

Normand Rochette went to the Olympic village early Sunday to break the news to his daughter.

"It's a tragedy. I'm sort of in shock by it," said Brian Orser, who got to know Rochette's parents when he was touring with her on "Stars on Ice" in Canada. "I'm proud of her that she is continuing to compete because she's a great competitor and she's in great shape. And she's skating for the right reasons."

After spending the morning with her father and longtime coach Manon Perron, Rochette appeared in the runway as the rest of the skaters in her practice session took the ice.

Wearing black tights and a black Canadian team hoodie, Rochette swiped at her eyes and then paused at the boards, gathering herself. When she skated over to Perron to drop off her guards, Perron pointed out where here father was sitting. Rochette turned and gave a little wave to him -- he was the only spectator allowed in the building when it was cleared for the security sweep before the original dance.

Though she was blinking hard her first few laps around the ice, Rochette quickly settled into her practice routine. She showed no lapses in concentration, jumped well and did a light run-through of her tango short program, even flashing a saucy smile at one point. In the stands, her father repeatedly rubbed his eyes.

The few people in the rink applauded when Rochette finished her program, and again as she left the ice.

"She's going to get through this," Canadian teammate Cynthia Phaneuf said. "She is just so strong. By being here and being able to compete after that happened, I'm just very impressed. I think she's doing the right thing. She won't get any stronger in her room."

Rochette plans to stay in the athletes' village, but has been offered her own room by Skate Canada. She had been rooming with Canadian ice dancer Tessa Virtue.

"It's devastating," Virtue said. "Our hearts go out to Joannie and her family. It's so tough."

World champion Kim Yu-na, who trains with Orser in Toronto, said she "really felt sorry" for Rochette.

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

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