VANCOUVER -- From the moment the grim news was announced Sunday, it was clear the women's figure skating short program here Tuesday would be a test of personal courage of the sort you would never wish on anyone.
Joannie Rochette skated in the Olympic Games just two days after her mother, Therese, died of a heart attack.
How awful. And yet how affirming.
To bear witness to Rochette's skate Tuesday night was to be reminded of what matters: Love is a bond stronger than death.
That was love Rochette skated with -- for her mother, and her father, and for everything they had done to put her out Tuesday night onto the ice.
Where she belonged.
Rochette grew up in a small town -- all of 600 people -- in French-speaking Quebec, on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.
The town is called Ile-Dupas. It is known -- such as it is known -- for duck-hunting and for an annual tractor-pulling contest.
"This place is who I am," Rochette said in one of those up-close profiles on CTV, the Canadian broadcasting outfit. She added a moment later, "For me, this is real life."
Rochette is an only child. Her father, Normand, who works for a metals company, taught her to skate when she was 4. When it became clear she had promise on skates, he pulled extra shifts.
Theirs, Rochette said, was a "very average income family," and she the farthest thing from spoiled: "I was a maid at the hotel. I just learned the hard way. It's good values to give to a kid."
When Rochette was 16, her coach, Manon Perron, moved to Montreal. Rochette followed, moving in with another family.
"It was difficult to leave home," she said. "Every time my mom would drive me to my [boarding family], the Sunday night, I would just cry a little bit. To come from such a small place ... sometimes people were looking at me weird. I wanted to get out there. But when I got out there, I felt a little bit scared."
At 19, Rochette won her first Canadian title.
At 20, she was already in the Olympics -- in 2006, in Torino. She finished fifth, moving up from ninth with a lovely long program.
Her music choice for the long program at those 2006 Games is particularly revealing. She skated to a classical version of "L'Hymne a l'amour," or "Hymn to love," written by Edith Piaf.
Why this song?
Because, as Rochette would later tell the story, when Therese was herself in her early 20s, she was engaged to be married. But two weeks before the wedding, her fiance was killed in an accident.
At some point later, Therese met Normand, and they fell in love. Their first baby died shortly after being born. The parents persevered. Their next child -- their only child -- would be Rochette.
"Through all my life, my parents gave me so much support to help me [keep] going further," Rochette would write in the journal she posts on her website. "They both gave me all the love they could "
She would add, "As a tribute to what my mother went through, to the love my parents have both for each other and for me, for all they've done to allow me to achieve my dreams and with the meaning the Olympics have for me, I feel that I have to skate on this."
If Rochette came to Torino known -- if at all -- in Canada, she came to these Vancouver Games well-known indeed around the world among those who follow skating.
Last March, at the world championships in Los Angeles, Joannie took silver, behind South Korea's Kim Yu-Na.
She was widely expected to be a medal contender here.
The heart attack that killed Therese Rochette came very early Sunday morning. She was 55.
That afternoon, Rochette ran through her practice. There were tears. But she appeared to skate with poise.
On Monday, at practice, it was the same -- tears and apparent poise.
On Tuesday, the tears waited until she was finished performing. On the ice, she was all poise.
Of course. Her mother would have wanted it that way.
I always encouraged her to have confidence in herself, to believe in her dreams, to consider the progress that she has accomplished over many years, Therese Rochette told the Christian Science Monitor newspaper in an e-mail exchange last month.
"But in periods of great stress, I also have the necessary distance to remind her of a rule she knows well: above all, skate for herself, for her pleasure.
On Tuesday night, straight-away, Rochette nailed a triple Lutz-double toeloop combination. Then a triple flip. Then the other elements of her program -- all clean.
When she finished, she glided to center ice and tried not to cry. She put her hand over her heart.
"She so deserved to skate well, to skate like that," Brian Orser, the two-time men's silver medalist from Canada who coaches South Korea's Kim, said.
"The way she skated tonight -- I applaud her," American skater Rachael Flatt said.
Kim skated a dazzling program, getting a record 78.5. At the end of the short program, she stood first. Japan's Mao Asada is second, with 73.78.
Third: Joannie Rochette. Her prior season's best had been 70 points. On Tuesday night, she got 71.36.
Therese Rochette also told the Monitor, We are aware that [Joannies past successes], and especially the Olympic Games are unique moments that she will remember her whole life.
Joannie Rochette elected after skating Tuesday night not to stop to talk to reporters. But, waiting for the scores in the kiss and-cry area, she said a few words in French. If you could lip-read, you could make out what she said: "Thanks, mom, for being with me "