Joannie Rochette

Figures skaters use Olympics as regular reunion

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SOCHI, Russia – Olympic sports are different compared to their counterparts that gather on a yearly basis: Every four years the Games act as a certain kind of class reunion. This is the time that they’re sport – and themselves – are back in the spotlight for a short amount of time.

Figure skating is no different. In fact, it may the standout of the bunch.

There’s Katarina Witt, sitting in the TV booth doing commentary and watching if Yuna Kim can match her back-to-back Olympic gold mark. She somehow looks better than when she did in 1988 in Calgary, some 24 years ago.

There’s Tara Lipinski, 16 years after being a 15-year-old champion, calling the action for NBC Sports alongside fellow former Olympian Johnny Weir. The duo might win new golds for commentary glamor. Which somehow is a new event.

VIDEO: Watch the complete free skate replay

Scott Hamilton is also in the booth, as he has been for almost every Games since his memorable win in 1984 in Sarajevo. Paul Wylie runs back and forth to the media mixed zone, the 1992 silver medalist grabbing quotes and doing radio spots, his petite frame holding a microphone over the interview barrier.

“I was a long-program skater, too,” he tells Gracie Gold one night, reassuring her. On another he’s greeted warmly American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, themselves new gold-medal winners.

At the practice rink, too, a close look in the crowd means several recognizable – and historic – faces: 2010 Olympic champion Evan Lysacek chats with two-time medalist Michelle Kwan while Jeremy Abbott works on his short program. Two-time silver medalist Elvis Stojko of Canada watches too, his brow furrowed as he studies the skaters on the ice.

VIDEO: Compare routines of Adelina Sotnikova and Yuna Kim

Russia’s Irina Slutskaya and Joannie Rochette of Canada, three medals between them, watch from the broadcasters’ booth as Adelina Sotnikova delivers a gold on Thursday night. Afterwards Slutskaya gets a picture with Lipinski, a then-and-now side-by-side.

Viktor Petrenko is at the boards, coaching both the Czech Republic’s Michal Brezina in the men’s event. Tanith Belbin, the U.S. ice dancer who won silver in 2006, interviews Maia Shibutani at one point in the seats of the Iceberg Skating Palace, talking about Maia’s free skate costume as it glitters under the TV lights.

Nancy Kerrigan happens through practice one day, the 1994 silver medalist watching 15-year-old American Polina Edmunds with curiosity, eventually making her way down to the mixed zone to observe the teen in press.

VIDEO: Sneak peek of Sunday’s Kerrigan-Harding documentary

Two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser coaches Yuzuru Hanyu to gold, Japan’s first-ever men’s singles winner. It’s four years after Orser led Yuna Kim to gold in the ladies’ event. But here, he has to console another skater, Javier Fernandez of Spain, who finishes fourth in the men’s event.

And Kristi Yamaguchi, winner of gold in 1992, does spots around the grounds for different TV engagements, just over 20 years after her victory – at the age of 20.

“Every four years it’s amazing to be able to come back and be able to be a part of the Olympic movement,” Yamaguchi says. “We share similar experiences – there’s a bond. Whether you’ve won a medal or not, you’ve been to battle together. It’s something very special.”

Joannie Rochette will have different role at Sochi Olympics

Joannie Rochette
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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.”

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