Olympian Joannie Rochette's mother Therese died Sunday after a heart attack in Vancouver

By Lorenzo Benet
Updated February 22, 2010 07:00 AM
Credit: Amy Sancetta/AP

Tragedy struck the Winter Olympics again this weekend as the mother of Canadian figure skating champion Joannie Rochette died of a heart attack Sunday, just two days before Rochette will contend for a medal in the women’s short program.

Officials confirmed that Rochette, 24, will compete despite the loss of her mother, Therese. “She is competing and she trained today with her father in the stands,” says Steve Milton, author of the book Figure Skating s Greatest Stars, who has covered the sport for decades.

A somber Normand Rochette, Joannie s father, told the media that his daughter “is very tough, and she is stronger than I am.”

Rochette is ranked second in the world and earned a silver medal at the 2009 World Championships. She is the first Canadian woman in 22 years to have a serious shot at an Olympic medal.

“She is a big star here – huge. Figure skating is the no. 2 winter sport after hockey, and this is devastating to her on the eve of the biggest moment of her life,” says Milton. “Everyone knows each other in the Canadian skating community and this is like a death in the family for everyone.”

The Rochette family hails from a small French-speaking village north of Montreal. Therese, 55, was described as her daughter s no. 1 fan and was well regarded in the tight-knit Canadian figure skating circles.

Yu-Na Kim, the world champion from Korea and gold medal favorite at the Games, trains in Canada and offered her condolences. “I hope Joannie gets through it and that she can compete.”

Kim s coach, Canadian Brian Orser, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, was “shocked – it s a tragedy. I can t imagine what Joannie will be going through.”

U.S. skater Mirai Nagasu believes Rochette will honor her mother by competing Tuesday. “She’ll skate for her mom,” Nagasu said.