Joannie Rochette isn’t on the ice in Sochi, she’s in front of a TV camera. But the legacy she left from the Vancouver Olympics is everywhere.
When Rochette won bronze at the Vancouver Olympics, just days after the sudden loss of her mother, audiences across the country were on the edge of their seats. But in Sherwood Park, Alta., a fourteen-year-old named Kaetlyn Osmond had already gone to bed.
“I go to bed really early,” Canada’s reigning women’s figure skating champion says sheepishly. Yet Osmond wasn’t about to miss one of the most famous moments in Canadian figure skating.
From beneath the covers, she gazed in amazement at the TV set in her bedroom, holding her breath with each jump. Like so many across Canada she cheered when Rochette finished the brave performance.
“I remember texting my friends, and they were all bawling,” says Osmond, who at 18 has taken over from Rochette as Canada’s premier women’s figure skater.
Though not lacing up her skates at these Games – she is instead broadcasting for Radio Canada – there are still hints of Rochette all around when Canada’s women take the ice.
If the costumes Osmond wears at these Olympics look similar to the one Rochette wore in Vancouver, that’s no mistake. Osmond turned to Montreal seamstress Josiane Lamond, who designed for Rochette.
But Osmond isn’t the only one following in Rochette’s path. Gabrielle Daleman, a 16-year-old from Newmarket, Ont. who is skating in her first Olympics, also looked up to Rochette four years ago.
When asked to describe herself, Daleman immediately reveals one of her favourite bits of trivia – that she and Rochette share a birthday. “I love to say it,” Daleman said after stepping off the ice at the Canadian championships where she claimed her spot for the Olympics.
It’s a legacy that won’t fade anytime soon.
Yet, Rochette demurs when asked about the influence her emotional performance had on the next generation of women skaters in Canada.
Osmond and Daleman are both prolific athletes doing complex jumps that push the boundaries of what she did on the ice, Rochette says. The kids are getting better and younger each year.
“It’s very flattering. But what they’re doing now, with triple-triple combinations, I mean they’ve taken it to another level,” Rochette says. “If I could inspire them, it’s very flattering.”
Rochette, 28, sees parallels between her and Osmond. When Rochette competed in her first Olympics at 20, she went in ranked 8th in the world, which is also where Osmond sits heading into Sochi. It’s a good place to be, she says.
“It’s great when you’re going there for your first time, because you’re just a kid in a candy store and you have no real expectations,” says Rochette. “I felt at one point in my career, expectations became so big from the outside and it was hard for me to enjoy my own skating. I had my best results toward the end, in 2009 and 2010, when I finally started to enjoy my skating again.”
What Rochette notices most about Osmond and Daleman is their confidence on the ice, which is well beyond their years.
“[Osmond] steps on the ice and is happy to be there. She doesn’t seem to be too nervous. And Gabby as well,” she says. “It’s great to see that attitude in women’s skating in Canada.”
In Sochi, perched above the ice in the broadcast booth, Rochette says she is more nervous for Osmond and Daleman when she skated.
“It’s more nerve-racking to watch them than to do your own performance,” Rochette says. “I’ll go through more emotions watching them skate, because I want them to do so well.”
Those who recognize Rochette in Sochi will approach her and describe exactly where they were in 2010 when they watched her bronze-medal skate. That sort of thing happens all the time, it just comes with the territory. She’s had fans from as far away as Australia describe to her how they cheered and cried in a bar there after watching her long program.
“I think it’s a story that went around the world because it was bigger than sport. It was something that everyone could relate to. It was because everyone has lost someone dear to them, and they were thinking, if they were in my position, what would they do?” Rochette says.
She can hardly believe it’s been four years.
“It seems like yesterday. In my head, I’m still competing and still training. It’s hard for it to sink in that I’m not going to be competing at these Olympics.”