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VANCOUVER (CP) — Tragedy has struck the Vancouver Olympics again, this time delivering a body blow to the Canadian team.
Skate Canada officials say Therese Rochette, mother of figure skater Joannie Rochette, died Saturday night at Vancouver General Hospital. She was 55. There was no immediate word on cause of death.
Skate Canada officials said the 24-year-old from IleDupas, Que. — the reigning world silver medallist and a six-time Canadian champion — still planned to compete. Her event starts Tuesday.
“ We met with her this morning and she intends to compete at the Games,” Skate Canada CEO William Thompson told reporters Sunday morning. “ We will, of course, support any further decisions she makes in the upcoming days. She is very determined and we believe she is focused on she is competing here.”
Added chef de mission Nathalie Lambert: “ She may change her mind and that’s fine too. I think she owes it to herself to go on that ice, to have no regrets and fulfil that dream that she had. It’s going to be really hard physically and really hard emotionally for sure.”
“She’s going to get the support of many, many Canadians in the toughest time of her life.”
The news came just over a week after a Georgian luger was killed during a training run at the Whistler Sliding Centre only hours before the opening ceremonies.
Lambert says Rochette will be able to get counselling from the team’s athletes’ service officer Sylvie Frechette, a former synchronized swimmer who had a similar tragic experience prior to the 1992 Games in Barcelona. Frechette’s boyfriend committed suicide just before those Games.
“I believe Sylvie is a good person to go talk to Joannie because she’s lived something similar,” said Lambert.
News of the death was released prior to a Canadian team briefing Sunday. Officials say Rochette’s father Normand went to the athletes village Sunday morning to deliver the news.
Rochette was slated to practise Sunday afternoon. Skate Canada officials said she would not speak to the media.
Liz Manley, a silver medallist at the 1988 Olympics, has been serving as somewhat of a mentor to Rochette in recent months. She told CTV she understood Rochette’s wish to keep skating.
“It’s not about a medal now for Joannie,” said Manley, who lost her mother in July 2008. “It is about doing something that she has worked an entire lifetime for, something that her mom was at he side every step of the way. And to not follow through with that right now, I know what she’s thinking. She’s going to go out there and do it for the love of her mom and for her years of hard work.”
Lambert asked the media not to ask other Canadian athletes about the death of Rochette’s mother.
“ We are deeply affected by something like that,” Lambert said. “I don’t think it adds to your story to get a quote from an athlete on how we’re doing. We’re doing the best we can with a situation that is a tragedy.