Joannie Rochette

Joannie Rochette, figure skater (born 13 January 1986 at Île Dupas, Quebec). Figure skater Joannie Rochette won the silver medal at the 2009 World Championships and was the Canadian ladies’ champion for six consecutive years (2005–10). She is best known for her courageous bronze-medal performance at the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, just days after her mother’s sudden death. Rochette also medalled at several international Grand Prix competitions.

Joannie Rochette, 2010
Canadian Joannie Rochette at the 2010 Winter Olympic figure skating medal ceremony (26 February 2010).

Early Career

An only child, Joannie Rochette began skating at the age of two. She skated at the Berthierville, Trois-Rivières and St-Rivard rinks under various coaches before settling on Manon Perron, with whom she remained for most of her career. She left home at 13 to train with Perron in Saint-Leonard, Quebec, and finally in Montreal, where she attended the local CEGEP.

In 1999, Rochette won the novice class at the Eastern Divisionals and placed 15th among the novices at her first Canadian championships. The following year, she rocketed to first place as the national novice ladies’ champion and won two international novice events.

In 2001, skating as a junior for the Trois Rivières West Figure Skating Club, she easily won the sectional championship and the national junior ladies’ title, performing three triple jumps. More international exposure came at the 2001 International Skating Union (ISU) World Junior Championships, where she placed eighth. She also finished in the top five at several Junior Grand Prix events.

In January 2002, Rochette competed at her first senior international event, the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, and finished in ninth place. At her first Canadian nationals as a senior, having just turned 16, she proved her mettle by taking the bronze medal while competing against more experienced skaters. In her long program she landed six triple jumps and displayed the ability to think strategically under pressure. Journalists marked her as a skater to watch.

Rochette ended her competitive season with a fifth-place win at the 2002 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in Norway.

In November 2002, Rochette withdrew from competition due to a stress fracture. By early 2003, she was on the ice again and finished eighth at the Four Continents competition and second at the national championships (she pushed reigning silver medallist Annie Bellemare down to bronze and challenged repeat champion Jennifer Robinson). Observers noted Rochette’s athleticism and speed and dubbed her a rising star.

Rochette made her debut at the senior world championships in March 2003, but she two-footed her triple-Lutz attempt in the short program and fell in the long program to finish 17th overall.

2003–04 Season

The 200304 season saw the jettisoning of the old, controversial 6.0 judging system and the introduction of the new system (the one currently used), in which skaters accumulate points for the difficulty level of jumps, field moves, spins, footwork and choreography.Rochette adapted by transferring some jumps to the second half of her long program to earn bonus marks and by taking ballet lessons for component (artistry) marks.

Rochette made her Skate Canada International debut in October 2003, falling on a triple-Lutz attempt and finishing 10th,higher than main rivals Jennifer Robinson and Annie Bellemare. A few weeks later, she finished fourth at the Cup of Russia.

At the national championships in January 2004 (which still used the 6.0 system), Rochette won her qualifying round and earned the nickname “Little Rocket.” With impressive speed, power and jump height, she seemed to many observers to be the skater to beat, although she remained troubled by an inconsistent triple Lutz. In the short program, she fell twice (once on the triple Lutz), but won the free skate with six triple jumps and a clean performance to win silver again, behind Cynthia Phaneuf, and secure her spot at the world championships.

At the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships a few weeks later, Rochette was sixth in the short program after falling on the Lutz. She finished fourth overall, behind Phaneuf but ahead of Robinson. At her second world championships, Rochette landed the second clean triple Lutz of her competitive career in her qualifying round. She enjoyed a clean short program and again landed the Lutz in her long program, along with a triple-toe loop-triple salchow combination.

2004–05 Season

In 2004, Jennifer Robinson retired from competition after dominating the Canadian ladies’ figure skating field (including six national titles). Robinson’s retirement opened up the field to younger competitors like Rochette, whose long program now included a points-earning triple-toe loop-triple toe-loop-jump combination. She lost Skate Canada to Cynthia Phaneuf in autumn 2004 but won the Trophée Eric Bompard in France in November, with seven triple jumps in the free skate. This victory qualified her for her first ISU Grand Prix Final, where she placed third, becoming the first Canadian woman to medal at that event.

During this season, Rochette briefly changed coaches to Josée Normand and Sébastien Britten (1995 national men’s champion).

In 2005, at the age of 19, Rochette won her first of six Canadian championships. Skating to Igor Stravinsky’s The Firebird for the free skate, she opened with a textbook triple-triple combination, followed by a clean triple Lutz in an error-free, commanding program. Her free-skate score of 123.12 under the new system was not only a personal best but also the world’s best free-skate score so far that year. However, at the 2005 World Figure Skating Championships, Rochette was 10th in the short program with low component marks and then dropped to 11th after being plagued by minor injuries and three falls in the free skate.

Following the world championships, Rochette began her tenure with the ice show Stars on Ice, with which she skated until 2016.

2005–06 Season

Rochette returned to coach Manon Perron for the 2005–06 season and took second place at Skate Canada. She repeated her national title, fending off contenders by winning both the short program and the free skate with six triple jumps and 195.83 points, earning a place at her first Olympic Winter Games in Torino, Italy. She placed fifth, achieving a top 10 finish and the best Olympic placement for a Canadian woman since Elizabeth Manley’s 1988 bronze medal. Rochette followed this up a month later by finishing seventh at the world championships in Calgary. She did well in the qualifying round but reduced several jumps and fell on her Lutz in both the short and long programs.

2006–07 Season

Rochette began strong in the 2006–07 season, winning Skate Canada with personal-best scores and faultless triple-double combination jumps. However, she failed to qualify for the Grand Prix Final. At the 2007 national championships, she had difficulties with some jumps but defended her title with a total score of 170.65.

Rochette won bronze at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships by winning the short program. However, at the world championships in Japan — her fifth — a fall on the short program’s compulsory footwork left her in 16th place. She recovered in the free skate to finish 10th overall, earning two sports for Canadian women at the next world championships.

2007–08 Season

Rochette won more international medals in 2007–08: a gold at Skate Canada and silver at the Four Continents. She also won her fourth Canadian championship in 2008, earning 175.76 points to finish ahead of Mira Leung and Cynthia Phaneuf. However, at the world championships in Sweden, she downgraded a triple-triple combination to a triple-double, leaving her sixth in the short program. She finished fifth overall after landing six triple jumps in the free skate. Rochette became determined to remaster the essential triple-triple jump combo.

Joannie Rochette
Canadian Joannie Rochette at the 2009\u201310 Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.

2008–09 Season

Rochette began the 2008–09 season on top, winning Skate Canada by more than 25 points. She also defeated future world champion Mao Asada at France’s Trophée Eric Bompard and then came fourth at the Grand Prix Final. Rochette was unbeatable at the 2009 Canadian championships, winning her fifth title with a triple-flip-triple toe-loop-jump combo. She followed this victory with silver at the Four Continents. She finished the season with a breakthrough performance at the world championships and took silver with a score of 191.29, making her the first Canadian woman to earn a world championship medal since Elizabeth Manley in 1988.

Joannie Rochette, 2009 World Championships
Canadian Joannie Rochette during the medals ceremony at the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships (28 March 2009). She won the silver medal.

2009–10 Season and Olympic Bronze

Rochette began the 2009–10 season with her third Skate Canada win. She went on to hersixth and final Canadian championship with 185.35 points, landing the triple-triple jump combination in her free skate.

Rochette’s next challenge was the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, with the intense pressure of skating on Canadian ice. Two days before the ladies’ competition began, her mother, Thérèse, died suddenly of a heart attack. Rochette elected to compete despite her grief. Skating her short program to tango music and a crowd screaming encouragement, she opened with a beautiful triple-Lutz-and-double-toe-loop combination and nailed a triple-flip jump, double Axel and other required elements for the best short program of her life and a standing ovation. A personal-best score of 71.36 (the highest awarded a Canadian on home ice) placed her in third.

Two days later, in the long program, Rochette stepped out of a triple flip but executed seven triple jumps for another personal-best score of 131.28. She won the Olympic bronze medal, behind South Korea’s Kim Yu-na (gold) and Japan’s Mao Asada (silver), making her the first Canadian skater to medal in the Olympic ladies’ event since 1988. For her heroic achievement and her Olympic spirit, Rochette was assigned to carry the Canadian flag in the closing ceremony.

Rochette chose not to compete at the 2010 world championships.

Subsequent Career

The Canadian Press voted Rochette its 2010 Female Athlete of the Year. She went on to skate in professional competitions, ice shows and television specials and represented the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and Birks.

In 2014, she was a sports analyst for the Olympic Winter Games and an athlete ambassador to the Canadian national championships. She entered the medical school at McGill University in 2016 and was inducted into Skate Canada’s Hall of Fame in 2017.

Legacy

“Little Rocket” Joannie Rochette is best known for her 2010 Olympic bronze-medal performance just days after her mother died. Her achievement continues to inspire people around the world.

Rochette is the first Canadian woman to win the national title in the novice, junior and senior ladies’ categories. She was the Canadian senior ladies’ champion six consecutivetimes, second only to Constance Wilson-Samuel. (Wilson-Samuel won seven consecutive titles between 1929 and 1935, with nine titles in total. Jennifer Robinson won five consecutive titles for six in total). Rochette was also the first Canadian woman to medal at an ISU Grand Prix Final.

Career Highlights

Olympic Winter Games Bronze (2010)
World Figure Skating Championships Silver (2009)
Four Continents Figure Skating Championships Silver (2008, 2009), Bronze (2007)
Canadian Figure Skating Championships Gold (2005–10), Silver (2003–04), Bronze (2002)
Grand Prix Final Bronze (2005)
Grand Prix Events:
Skate Canada International
Trophée Eric Bompard
Cup of China
Gold (2006, 2008, 2009)
Gold (2008)
Bronze (2004, 2009)

Awards

  • Canadian Press Female Athlete of the Year, 2010
  • Terry Fox Award, 2010
  • Diamond Jubilee Medal, 2012

Further Reading

  • Christine Dzidrums and Leah Rendon, Joannie Rochette: Canadian Ice Princess (2010)