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NEWS ARCHIVES

February 28, 2010
thestar.com

Joannie Rochette to carry flag at Olympic closing ceremonies

VANCOUVER—This wasn’t the Olympic story that Joannie Rochette wanted to write.

But if there can be a fitting end to a bittersweet Games for the 24-year-old figure skater from Ile-Dupas, Que., carrying Canada’s flag into the closing ceremonies of the Vancouver Games is it — the perfect tribute to a courageous athlete who has lifted so many.

The courageous Rochette captured Canada’s heart with her uncommon grace in the midst of tragedy, winning a bronze medal less than a week after the sudden death of her mom Therese.

“Honestly this is such a big honour because during this whole Olympic experience, I’ve been carried by so many Canadians, so it’s an honour for me to carry it into that stadium,” Rochette said Sunday morning. “And on behalf of all my teammates, who have done so well, they inspired me and when they come and tell me I inspired their performance, I’m happy I can do this.

“What I can tell you about the Canadian team is that it’s the most closely knit team there is at these Olympics and I could really witness that, because I could not be here without my teammates, without their support and without all the help I got.”

The reigning world silver medallist, Rochette arrived in Vancouver as one of Canada’s medal favourites, but also on the heels of an up-and-down season. Then her world was turned upside down Feb. 21 when she awakened to news that her mom, whom she lovingly called both her biggest fan and her toughest critic, had died in Vancouver of a heart attack.

Less than three days later, with her father Normand in the crowd, the elegant skater mustered all her emotional strength and stepped on the ice, laying down the finest short-program performance of her life to leave her in third place. When the music stopped the tears flowed, and Rochette’s pretty face, twisted in sadness, will forever be one of the enduring images of these Games.

The five-foot-three Rochette — whose surname in English means ‘little rock’ — went on to capture bronze, Canada’s first Olympic women’s singles medal since Elizabeth Manley won silver in Calgary in 1988.

In the “kiss and cry” when she received her marks, Rochette told her mom she loved her, and later thanked the woman who had always pushed her to be the very best she could be. Her mom, she said, gave her the strength to get through.

The skater said she was surprised, but proud, to be chosen to carry the flag among a team with so many Olympic champions.

“When I first got asked by the COC to walk into the stadium with the Canadian flag, I was a bit surprised and touched because I’ve won a bronze medal and so many athletes, in fact we’re the nation who has won the most gold medals in Olympic history, Olympic Winter Games, and I was asking myself ‘Why me?’“ Rochette said.

Canadian chef de mission Nathalie Lambert said Rochette was selected for her grace and courage under pressure.

Skate Canada officials gave Rochette the option of pulling out of the Games, but she wanted to finish a journey that she shared with her mom that began when the two sat down to watch Oksana Baiul win gold at the 1994 Olympics.

As she posed for photos during a news conference Rochette said: “It’s a huge honour to have this flag in my hand.”

“Yes, it’s been a tough week for me,” she said. “But I want to walk into that stadium as a celebration . . . and a big smile on my face. I want to celebrate with my teammates.”

Earlier it was short-track speed skater Charles Hamelin who was accepting flag-bearer congratulations at a party that drew many Canadian medallists and saw most of the short-track team celebrate into the wee hours Sunday.

Hamelin won double gold in the 500 metres and the men’s 5,000-metre relay.

Asked about carrying the flag, Hamelin said: “Yes, thank you very much.” His choice was confirmed by teammates. Two federal government sources also confirmed Hamelin as flag-bearer.

Prior to Sunday’s news conference to nympic ski Team, Canadian Women's Cross Country Ski Team, Canadian Womens Olympic Waterpolo Team, Canadian Womens Olympic skelton Team, women and sport, sport leadership, women and leadership, gender equity and the Olympics, past Canadian Olympic medallists, women olympic history, trans-gendered athletes, Canadian Olympic Profiles">

A short-track team spokesman said later that the team was either sick of being asked about the flag-bearer job or had simply started to believe rumours that had been circulating.

Lambert, who selected the flag-bearer with assistants Joe Juneau and Steve Podborski, said later the choice was always Rochette.

Long-track speed skater Clara Hughes carried the Canadian flag at the opening ceremonies.


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