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Rochette golden in winning bronze for her mother

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Rochette golden in winning bronze for her mother

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Joannie Rochette of Canada competes in the free skating on Thursday

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Joannie Rochette's bottom lip quivered and the tears finally came as she bowed her neck to be adorned with a bronze medal that felt more like gold.

A week of incomprehension and bewilderment, of professional fulfillment amid personal emptiness, culminated on the most cherished steps of the Pacific Coliseum as the girl who became Canada's favorite daughter realized a dream in the midst of a nightmare.

Few glances and gestures to the heavens in a sporting arena have meant as much as this one, as Rochette reached upward to salute her mother Therese, who died of a heart attack in the early hours of Sunday morning.

In truth, she has been saluting her all week.

Not just on the Winter Olympic ice, where a commanding and confident long program on Thursday night kept her in third place after the tear-jerking effort 48 hours earlier put her in medal contention.

Not just with jumps and spins and moves and musical interpretation. And not just with that hunk of forged metal that is all too often the only barometer of athletic success.

More than all those things, Joannie Rochette honored her mother with her grace and class and incredible fortitude – all attributes Therese tried to instill in her daughter.

“Even though she is not here anymore, I am not afraid to say that sometimes my mom could be a pain in the ass,” Rochette said with a smile that blended sadness and loving memory. “She was my biggest fan, my best friend.

“She wasn't confident for herself but she wanted the best for me. She would cheer me up when I was sad. She would put me down a bit when I got too proud. I would always remember the other moms leaving the skating rink and she would stick around, even when I wanted her to go so I could talk to my friends and eat my poutine.

"Most of all I wanted to make her proud.”

Figure skating is a sport where turning up and going through the motions is a fast track to disaster. Engagement and emotion are what this outwardly picturesque but mentally tortuous game is all about.

Rochette had little option but to lay herself bare on the Vancouver ice and hope against hope that muscle memory and perhaps a smattering of help from above would pull her through. And it did.

There were two minor errors but no falls during Thursday's free skate, and the display was enough to secure a medal she didn't need in order for her Games to be considered a triumph.

“I am happy to be on the podium,” Rochette said. “That was my goal coming here and a lifetime project with my mom – and we achieved that.

“I don't know how I could skate, my legs were shaking. I don't know how I did it, my mind was not here. But I am glad I did and 10 years from now when the pain has gone a bit I would wish I skated here and I know that's what my mom would want me to do.

“I feel proud and the result didn't matter.”

There may be no truer words spoken during these Winter Olympics. In a circumstance when mere participation would have been enough, Rochette's bravery and resilience provided the most uplifting of stories, a wonderful antidote to the constant fervor for medals above all else.

This was about human spirit. Tears trickled down Rochette's face and onto the ice, just like they spilled from countless faces in the Pacific Coliseum crowd, where the 24-year-old's father Normand sat feeling a mixture of pride and loss.

“Joannie is a special person,” said her coach Manon Perron. “She believed and she knew what she had to do to honor her mother. She took the support of the people and she used it to help her.”

Rochette didn't shoulder the hopes of a nation. Rather, she was pulled onto the shoulders of the Canadian people and the figure skating community. Not even the most forlorn blackheart could fail to have been moved by this tale of triumph.

The method of coping used by Rochette, utilizing an inner steel that bordered on defiance, just made the public want to embrace her even more.

Every jump was met with a collective intake of breath from 11,000 fans, every spin followed by a sea of eyes and hearts.

With a resounding hand slap for Perron, she skated to center ice to begin her routine. After landing the first set of jumps she was away again, lost in the most deeply personal of moments on a public stage.

A bad landing on a triple flip and double Axel ended any faint hopes of silver, as she couldn't get enough height to make an ideal landing. But that wasn't near enough to deny her a top-three finish behind Kim Yu-Na and Mao Asada.

Joannie Rochette is a quiet girl from a tiny town in Quebec, where she will return next week to reflect on the rollercoaster of emotion she has survived.

Yet she has left a mark on Vancouver and on everyone who witnessed her personal struggle. She provided these Games one of its most iconic moments.

And she made the most appropriate and moving of tributes to the woman who should have been here to see it.

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