The gold medal in ladies’ figure skating belongs, wholly and authoritatively, to Kim Yu-Na of South Korea – but at the Pacific Coliseum tonight, the crowd belonged to Joannie Rochette. Completing her program to thunderous applause, Rochette skated a small circle and blew a kiss to the sky as flowers fell to the ice from above.
On Sunday, Thérèse Rochette died from a heart attack at 55. Tonight, her daughter Joannie won bronze at the Winter Games. “I’m so proud,” Rochette said later, touching the medal around her neck. “I know this: My Mom was with me every step of the way tonight.”
Fifith in Turin, Rochette had been waiting four years for tonight’s four minutes. Competing to Samson and Delilah by Camille Saint-Saëns, the Canadian skater took to the ice attired in something blue, skimpy and sparkly – basically, what a girl would wear in a rap video had rap been invented by Liberace. Rochette wasn’t flawless, but her athletic and casually energetic performance gave her third place by a comfortable margin, just behind Mao Asada of Japan, who took silver.
Neither finished within a rink’s length of Yu-Na, who turned in a world record performance, scoring 150.06 in the free skate – a number that in the arena prompted gasps: the good kind, not the someone-just-fell-down-again kind. (Asada, by comparison, earned 131.72 points.) Yu-Na is coached by Brian Orser, who clapped hard and pumped his fists along the boards as his pupil nailed jump after perfect jump. “It’s her medal, but I do feel like I’m part of this gold,” Orser said. “It’s so surreal. And it’s so satisfying.”
Aside from its emotional tentpole – provided with grace and muted outward sentiment by Rochette – and the astonishing performance from Yu-Na, the night was a mixed affair: a bland opening half, received quietly by the crowd, followed after the break by a few electrifying programs, including one from Akiko Suzuki of Japan, who according to the Olympics website is 24 years old but looks as though she arrived straight from the ball room at IKEA. (She came into the night in 11th and finished eighth.)
The flipside: Carolina Kostner of Italy, ranked seventh after the short program, fell approximately 386 times and scored roughly the same number of points that Orser would have tallied for peeling off his uniform and streaking across the ice. Kostner wound up 16th. Skating from 14th position, Cynthia Phaneuf of Contrecoeur, Que., fell once and muffed another jump. But her performance was received enthusiastically by the sold-out crowd, and she ended up 12th.
For Rochette now, the Olympics are over. This full, fleeting moment of chaos, pressure and routine has passed. She has achieved her goal as a skater. Ahead there is only time, and the hard road of grief.