Joannie Rochette captivates crowd, trails Kim Yu-na and Mao Asada after figure skating short program

South Korea's Kim Yu-na wins the women's figure skating gold medal after shattering her previous world record score by more than 18 points.
By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, February 24, 2010

VANCOUVER, B.C. -- Two women awed the crowd Tuesday night at Pacific Coliseum while another nearly brought down the house -- in tears. As South Korea's Kim Yu-na and Japan's Mao Asada laid down back-to-back extraordinary programs to kick off the competition in women's Olympic figure skating -- with the edge to the reigning world champion Kim -- Canadian Joannie Rochette skated a clean and emotional program just two days after her mother's sudden death from a heart attack.

Kim and Asada ended their programs with smiles and fist punches; Rochette ended hers by dissolving in tears as the crowd rose for, by far, the loudest ovation of the night.

At the conclusion, Kim carried a commanding, but not invincible, lead entering Thursday's deciding long program. She earned a world-record total of 78.50 points from the judges. Asada, the 2008 world champion who has struggled this season, received 73.78 for second, and Rochette claimed third with 71.36 points. Japan's Miki Ando, the 2007 world champion, stood in fourth place with 64.76.

"The pressure I had was not as much as I expected," Kim, 19, said shortly after skating through an interpreter. "The battle was not so much."

The battle, of course, will continue Thursday.

"Five points," Asada, 19, said, "isn't a lot."

The night offered so much. It featured the drama of a full-throttle duel between the favorites, Kim and Asada, both of whom put forth powerful, clean and difficult programs. It showed American Mirai Nagasu, just 16 and skating in her first Olympics, fighting through a bloody nose early in the night; she landed in sixth place with 63.76.

It offered American Rachael Flatt, 17, who skated her heart out in a hot pink dress to "Sing Sing Sing" late in the night and received a total of 64.64 points for fifth place.

And it showcased Rochette getting on the ice as she said she would, and nailing her program on top of it. When she received her marks, she blew kisses to the roaring, adoring crowd and touched her heart.

"It was very nice to have the warm welcome," Rochette said in a statement. "It was hard to handle, but I appreciate the support."

Asked about her emotions, she said simply, "Words cannot describe" them. She did not speak directly to reporters, but gave her comments to a figure skating official.

Rochette, 24, landed a triple Lutz-double toe combination, a trip flip and double Axel, and skated with grace and elegance. Before taking the ice, she stood at the boards saying, 'okay' and nodding her head as she received last-minute encouragement. Her mother, Therese, suffered a heart attack the night she arrived from Montreal for these Games. She was 55. Rochette learned of her mother's death from her father at 6 a.m. Sunday and never considered not skating here.

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