Canada’s Olympic team has been dealt a tragic blow with the death in Vancouver early Sunday morning of Thérèse Rochette, the 55-year-old mother of figure skater Joannie Rochette. Mrs. Brochette had arrived in Vancouver with her husband Normand from their home in Ile Dupas, Que., only the day before to watch her daughter skate her first program on Tuesday night. It’s her first Olympic performance in Vancouver, the short program. She is the first skater in the last grouping that night. Rochette has told Skate Canada officials she intends to carry on with her skate.
A somber Benoit Lavoie, president of Skate Canada and William Thompson, its CEO, announced the news Sunday morning. He said Thérèse died early Sunday morning at Vancouver General hospital. “We have no knowledge of her having any illness, or the cause of death,” Thompson said. Vancouver radio station CKNW reported, “It is believed she had a heart attack,” which has since been confirmed. Normand Rochette traveled to the Olympic Village shortly afterwards to give his daughter the tragic news. He remains with her and several other family members as well as the team’s sport psychologist surround her.
Nathalie Lambert, Chef de Mission for the Canadian Olympic team was fighting tears Sunday morning. She said her role is usually a celebratory one but it’s now tinged with sadness. “It’s very emotional for me today.” She urged the media to avoid questioning Rochette about her loss if, indeed, she does skate Tuesday. She also urged them not to raise the issue with her teammates who also were informed of the loss Sunday.
Both she and Skate Canada officials said they won’t pressure Rochette to continue, and they would support her decision to drop out of the Games if she changes her mind.
Lambert also added that former Olympic swimmer Sylvie Fréchette, a friend of Joannie’s, is also at the Games and is sadly capable of offering consolation and advice about performing after tragedy.
Fréchette’s boyfriend committed suicide shortly before she was to compete in the 1992 Summer Games in Barcelona. Fréchette went on to perform flawlessly, only to be robbed of a gold medal by a computer error.
Rochette’s loss cast a cloud on a news conference Canadian team officials had scheduled to give a mid-Games assessment of their chances.
Michael Chambers, president of the Canadian Olympic Committee, said winning the medal standings is still possible despite the strong performance by the U.S. team. The team began Sunday in fifth place, one place behind their predictions for the mid-Games.
They are projecting they could still reap as many as 11 to 14 medals in the final four days of the Games, though he conceded, “the U.S. is making it very tough for us to achieve our goal.”