Joannie Rochette

Joannie Rochette will have different role at Sochi Olympics

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Joannie Rochette won’t be competing, but the Canadian figure skater who displayed tremendous courage in winning bronze in 2010 will still be at the Sochi Olympics.

Rochette, now 27, skated at the Vancouver Olympics two days after the sudden death of her mother, Therese. Her emotional bronze captured hearts and became one of the poignant performances of the Games. She hasn’t competed at a major national or international event since and will go to Sochi with Canadian TV broadcaster CBC and sponsor Visa.

She said the decision not to try for a third Olympic berth “just came naturally.”

“I’ve been doing shows for 3 1/2 years now, and I really love it,” Rochette said in a phone interview Monday. “That’s my life.”

She will skate in three weeks at the Japan Open, a team event scheduled to include U.S. champion Ashley Wagner, Olympic silver medalist Mao Asada and Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi.

“I’m still training and still enjoy skating, but there’s a big difference between doing the Japan Open and doing the Olympics,” Rochette said. “It’s more to give myself a personal challenge. I don’t have the added pressure of competing in the Olympics.”

Rochette said she has no idea how she was able to skate at the 2010 Olympics two days after her mother died of a heart attack at age 55. She was excellent, scoring a personal best in her short program and holding onto that third-place spot after the free skate two nights later.

“When something like that happens the pressure is on, and you just do it, you just forge ahead,” Rochette said. “The biggest challenge was to stop thinking about everything and skate.”

The Quebec native said she’s still negotiating her Sochi Olympic role with CBC and that it will primarily be in French.

“I’m new to the TV world,” she said. “I don’t know if I’ll be doing figure skating or more like every sport, the perspective of an athlete.”

Rochette sounded like a seasoned analyst breaking down the women’s figure skating field for Sochi. Canadian hopes will rest on Kaetlyn Osmond, 17, who placed eighth at her first World Championships in March.

“I think her potential is endless,” Rochette said. “I saw her two years ago when she was third (at the Canadian nationals). Just to see how much she improved in less than a year is incredible. She came back the following year and won Skate Canada.

“She did not even seem intimidated, and she’s still quite young. There are still things she needs to improve to challenge the top ladies … but I definitely think she can be top 10 (in Sochi).”

As for the medal contenders, Rochette was impressed by Olympic champion Yuna Kim‘s comeback to win the world title by a whopping 20 points in March. Kim is attempting to become the first woman since Katarina Witt in 1988 to defend an Olympic figure skating title.

Is she beatable?

“Yuna at her best is quite hard to beat, honestly, but I would like to say, yes, that it’s still possible,” Rochette said. “At World Championships this year, there was no question she was untouchable. As of now, watching worlds, I would put my money Yuna, but Mao (Asada) can do a triple axel, come to the Olympics and skate really well. So you never know what can happen.”

Gracie Gold stumbles amid coaching uncertainty

Yuzuru Hanyu tops Grand Prix Final short program

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu is well on his way to a record fourth straight Grand Prix Final title.

The Olympic champion landed two quadruple jumps while his closest rival, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, nearly fell twice in the short program in Marseille, France, on Thursday.

Hanyu tallied 106.53 points, the third-highest short program score under the decade-old scoring system, but said he wasn’t completely satisfied. Hanyu owns the five best short programs, all compiled in the last two seasons, with a best of 110.95.

“This program feels like a concert,” said Hanyu, who skated to Prince music in a purple outfit. “I consider this program cannot be completed without the audience.

“I feel this program has a lot more potential. I really wanted to improve my personal-best score here.”

Hanyu is trying to become the first singles skater to win four straight Grand Prix Finals in the event’s 22-year history.

He leads three-time Canadian world champion Patrick Chan by 6.77 points going into Saturday’s free skate. Chan’s clean short program included one quad and marked his first personal best in three years.

“The first good short program in a long time, internationally,” Chan said. “It didn’t feel any more special than any usual training day.”

Fernandez, who beat Hanyu at the last two world championships, nearly fell on a quad Salchow and a triple Axel and is in third, nearly 15 points back of Hanyu.

Fernandez was followed by Japan’s Shoma Uno and the two Americans, training partners Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon, in fifth and sixth in the six-skater field.

Chen, 17, fell on a quad flip and stepped out of a quad Lutz landing.

“I made two pretty big mistakes, so I’m a little bit upset about that,” Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I was able to land the triple Axel, which I’m happy about because that’s always been my struggle jump.”

Rippon, 27, was the only skater to not attempt a quad.

“I’m trying the least amount of quads so my focus is to skate well overall,” Rippon said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I want to do my best and improve for the rest of the season.”

Chen and Rippon are the first American men in a Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, since 2011.

The Grand Prix Final continues Friday with the short dance, pairs free skate and women’s short program (broadcast schedule here).

Earlier in pairs, Canadian world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford struggled to third place in the short program. Duhamel fell on a throw triple Axel.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead by 3.26 points going into Friday’s free skate.

MORE: Javier Fernandez builds toward last Olympic chance

Men’s Short Program
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 106.53
2. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 99.76
3. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 91.76
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 86.82
5. Nathan Chen (USA) — 85.30
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 83.93

Pairs Short Program
1. Yevgenia Tarasovana/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 78.60
2. Xiaoyu Yu/Hao Zhang (CHN) — 75.34
3. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 71.44
4. Cheng Peng/Yang Jin (CHN) — 70.84
5. Natalya Zabiyako/Aleksander Enbert (RUS) — 65.79
6. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 60.86

IOC president wants life bans for Russian cheats

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 16: IOC President Thomas Bach closing remarks during the fourth day of the 21st ANOC General Assembly at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on November 16, 2016 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images for ANOC)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Russian athletes and officials who are proven to have been part of a doping “manipulation system” should be banned for life from the Olympics, IOC President Thomas Bach said Thursday.

Bach gave his personal view one day before Canadian investigator Richard McLaren publishes a final report into alleged state-backed cheating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Proof of systematic doping would be “aggravated circumstances” to justify life bans, the IOC leader said at a news conference after a three-day executive board meeting.

“I would not like to see this person again at any Olympic Games in any function,” Bach said, noting that as an IOC disciplinary commission chairman he approved life bans for Austrian team members implicated in doping at the 2006 Turin Winter Games.

However, proving that individual athletes knew of systematic doping involving state agencies could be difficult.

McLaren, who was appointed by the World Anti-Doping Agency in May, is expected to give more detail about cheating operations at the Sochi laboratory.

In his interim report in July, McLaren confirmed claims by former lab director Grigory Rodchenkov of a hole-in-the-wall swapping system aided by the FSB security agency to exchange athletes’ dirty urine samples for clean ones.

Earlier Thursday, the IOC member appointed to oversee disciplinary cases that arise from McLaren’s evidence acknowledged they could be tough to prove.

“Can you prove (athletes) were aware?” Denis Oswald, a Swiss lawyer, said on the sidelines of a sports law conference in Geneva.

“It is not that we would be scared to attack high level people in the Russian regime,” the Swiss lawyer said. “The question is more on the legal point of view. Can you punish athletes if they have done nothing and whether they were not aware of what was happening?”

Bach has also appointed a second IOC commission, headed by former Switzerland president Samuel Schmid, to evaluate if McLaren’s report and evidence proves a state-run doping system.

“And then based on that we will see if we can start cases against athletes,” Oswald said.

Meanwhile, United States lawmakers want Bach to attend a congressional committee hearing next Thursday to provide an update on sports’ fight against doping.

“Unfortunately I cannot attend there,” said Bach, adding that the IOC will “provide by other means all the information they may need.”

MORE: Russia sets 2018 Olympics medal target