Olympic figure skating bronze-medal winner Joannie Rochette had never seen a horse race before, never been to a racetrack.
But yesterday, she helped conduct the draw for the $500,000 Woodbine Oaks, Canada's premier race for fillies, to be held at Woodbine Race Track on Sunday.
This is Rochette's new life. Since the Vancouver Games, with her courageous performances days after the death of her mother, the 24-year-old from Ile-Dupas, Que., has been swept into a new world of appearances and shows, telling her story again and again.
Instead of conjuring up a new program for next season and skating alone in a frosty rink, she was meeting Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame jockey Sandy Hawley, professing curiosity about the lives of athletes in a sport very different from hers and expressing surprise that at Woodbine and elsewhere, female jockeys compete against males.
The American connections of Embur's Song, the 9-to-5 favourite for the Oaks, now know that their precocious filly will start from post six, thanks to Rochette's work on Thursday. The Woodbine Oaks, 1 1/8 miles, is the first leg in the filly Triple Tiara. The second jewel is the 1 1/16-mile, $250,000 Bison City Stakes on July 11, followed by the 1 1/4-mile $250,000 Wonder Where Stakes turf event Aug. 1.
But Rochette is still a nonstarter in her own figure skating world, still pondering her competitive moves for next season.
She hasn't decided yet what to do. She hasn't had time to think. She's barely had a breather since the Games.
More than likely, however, Rochette will be watching the Grand Prix series this season from her living room, looking to see what her competitors are doing under new rules that will be passed within the next week at the International Skating Union Congress in Barcelona.
"After that, I will clear up my mind and know what I want to do," she said.
There is a chance she could compete at the Canadian championships in Victoria in January. She doesn't know. She doesn't know who she will work with, although she has ideas. And if she does return, she wants to make some changes, she said, to keep her career fresh and challenging.
She will compete at the Japan Open in early October, the competition last year that set her on her Olympic path for the season. It was the event in which she unveiled her new Olympic routines, and she was sharp, and ready, way back then.
But she has other plans now. Two days ago, she returned from shows in South Korea. On Wednesday, she had a homecoming celebration, finally, in Montreal, where she saw old friends. Home at 2 a.m. Thursday, she hopped aboard a flight to Toronto at 8 a.m.
Short of sleep, she stood, blinking, as a crowd of horse people stood to their feet, applauding when she was introduced for the draw. Outgoing Woodbine president David Willmot invited Rochette to attend the Queen's Plate. If the real Queen doesn't show up (and everybody knows she will), at least Woodbine will have the skating queen.
Rochette has had one little break, a week in St. Lucia where she heard no phones and saw no Internet. And she's taking another break until about July. That alone means she won't be ready for the Grand Prix season, which starts in late October. "I'm off the ice completely," she said.
This fall, instead of competing, she intends to return to her education. She wants to stay at home in Montreal more. And breathe.Report Typo/Error