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Rochette withdraws from world championships

Canada’s Joannie Rochette stands on the podium after winning the bronze medal in the women’s figure skating competition at the Vancouver 2010 Olympics.

Mark Baker/AP

The emotional and physical upheaval of the last three weeks have taken a toll on Joannie Rochette.

So the figure skater who captured bronze at the Vancouver Olympics less than a week after the death of her mother has withdrawn from next week's world championships.

The 24-year-old from Ile-Dupas, Que., who won hearts with her courage and grace in the midst of tragedy, said the tumultuous events have left little time for training for the world championships in Turin, Italy.

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"That means I'm not prepared either emotionally or physically to skate well at these championships and challenge for the podium," Rochette said in a statement Monday. "Whenever I compete I want to give my best to the fans and to respect my competitive nature of the sport.

"I just would not be able to do that for either the fans or myself next week."

Rochette, the reigning world silver medallist, won bronze in Vancouver less than six days after her mom Therese died of a heart attack at the age of 55. The image of her pretty face overcome by grief following her short program will be one of the most enduring of the Games.

Rochette was third behind Kim Yu-Na of South Korea and Japan's Mao Asada, and then carried Canada's flag into the closing ceremonies.

She had hoped to skate one last time this season - an exhibition program and a tribute to her mother during "Thin Ice," a made-for-TV show to be broadcast live on ABC on Friday. But the event isn't sanctioned by the International Skating Union and the Canadian skater doesn't have approval to perform.

"It was going to be something really special, something that Joannie really wanted to do," her agent David Baden told The Canadian Press. "But then all these stipulations started coming up, like if she skates in the world championships we'll sanction her, if she doesn't skate, we won't.

"Joannie is the innocent victim here, she wants to skate in a show that she should be entitled to skate in. She's been through enough, why is she being put through the ringer like this? It's so heartless what they're doing."

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An email to the ISU wasn't immediately returned Monday evening.

Rochette had planned to skate to "Vole" by Celine Dion, her mom's favourite singer. It's the same program Rochette performed at the Exhibition Gala at the Vancouver Games. Dion wrote the song in memory of her niece who died of cystic fibrosis and Baden said Dion was going to provide a recorded message to Rochette to air Friday.

Skate Canada CEO William Thompson said ISU rules state an athlete can't choose an exhibition performance over an ISU event, so the trouble arose when she pulled out of the world championships.

"If she's withdrawn from worlds, she can't skate the exhibition without risking the sanction," Thompson said. "If she'd done both, it would have been fine because she wouldn't have been favouring an exhibition over an ISU event. But if she decides to be out of worlds, she can't do the exhibition either."

Baden said it wasn't fair to compare the two.

"Doing an exhibition to honour your mother over the intensity of trying to get on the podium at a world championship, it's two different things," he said. "I just think people need to appeal to their common decency and let the girl do something that's important to her. It should be about what's right for her."

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Skate Canada officials had said they would support Rochette if she decided to skip the world championships. Thompson said Monday he wasn't surprised that she decided to do so.

"We knew after the Olympics it was going to be very hard for her when she got back to her normal life, and that she would definitely have a down period after that," Thompson said. "So it was totally fine from our perspective, under the circumstances.

"Obviously we'd love for her to be there, she's our strongest woman by a mile. On the other hand, realistically, I'm not surprised. And we're totally supportive of her, whatever choice she makes."

Rochette's spot on the Canadian team will be filled by Myriane Samson of St-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Que.

Cynthia Phaneuf of Contrecoeur, Que., is the other women's singles skater competing in Turin.

Rochette received an outpouring of support in Vancouver from fans and teammates. Dion and Canadian actor Jim Carrey were among the celebrities to wish her well.

"There has been so much kindness shown to me and my family," Rochette said. "I want you all to know that your words of encouragement have truly helped me get through this very difficult time.

"I also want to wish our Canadian team members all the very best as they compete in Torino. They all have my best wishes for a great competition."

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