Amid the tragedy, Joannie Rochette discovered an inner strength she didn't know existed.
The Canadian figure skater's mother died of a heart attack just before the Vancouver Games — Rochette's home Olympics. Grief-stricken yet resolute in knowing Therese Rochette's wish would have been for her to compete "and complete my dream," Rochette skated.
And won bronze.
On the eve of the Sochi Games, which Rochette will attend as an analyst for Canadian TV and working with Team Visa, she looks back at 2010 with pride, not sadness, in her voice.
"That was the chance of a lifetime," she said. "Any athlete wants to make it to the Olympics, but to make it in your own country ... to make it and then not be able to skate in my own country was not what my mom would have wanted for me.
"I knew I was strong. I did not know I was that strong, to have one of my parents die a few days before; you can never be prepared for that. I saw skaters who would come back a week later and I would wonder how they are able to keep functioning. When it happens to you, you get that strength, and I don't know where it comes from. We are built that way as athletes, I guess."
Perhaps. But her courage in the midst of such grief was inspirational — to other Olympians, to fans. To everyone, really.
Rochette took the ice for practice just hours after her mother's death. Four days later, she mesmerized the crowd and many of her peers with a stunning free skate that earned her bronze. A few days later, Canadian teammates chose her to carry the flag at the closing ceremony.
"In Vancouver, I learned no matter how prepared you are for a competition — you plan well in advance for the Olympics, of course, on and off ice — you need to be flexible with that plan and can never know what can happen," she said. "Winners are those who can go with it."
With the support of her "strong team" — her father and boyfriend, her coach and sports psychologist — she made it.
"I knew I might be alone on the ice, but without them I would not ever be able to skate," Rochette said. "That was the moment I was training for my whole life. The Olympics come once every four years. I was 24 and at my peak, and it was do it then or do it never.