LOS ANGELES — Elizabeth Manley leaned over a barrier in the bowels of the Staples Center, gathering up Joannie Rochette in a long embrace.
It was a fitting ending to a thrilling night for Rochette, and a sort of passing of the torch — finally. The skater from Ile-Dupas, Que., captured a silver medal in the women’s singles at the world figure skating championships, ending a medal drought in the event that stretched back 21 years.
“This is unbelievable, it’s been so, so long and now to be able to deliver it . . .,” Rochette said. “For myself, I’m so, so happy to do it, it’s my little girl’s dream, since I was very young I’ve been dreaming about that.”
Rochette, who was making her seventh world championship appearance, overcame several missteps in an otherwise elegant free skate performance to Concierto de Aranjuez scoring 123.39 for a total of 191.92, earning Canada’s third medal of these world championships.
South Korean sensation Kim Yu-na, who trains in Toronto with former Canadian star Brian Orser, scored 131.59 for a total 207.71 to take the gold. Miki Ando of Japan won bronze with a score of 126.26 for a total 190.38.
Cynthia Phaneuf of Contrecouer, Que., finished 15th.
Manley herself won Canada’s last women’s singles medal, a silver in 1988 in Budapest, and until Saturday night, her’s was the only one in 36 years.
“I just hope to inspire some young girls who want to achieve big things in skating and make them believe it’s possible,” Rochette said. “They know my history and know that five years ago no-one would have thought — or even three years ago — that I would be on the podium, that I had the talent to be on it.
“But through hard work I think anything is possible and I proved that to myself and hopefully proved that to all the other Canadian ladies.”
The 23-year-old Rochette, a five-time Canadian champion, went into the free skate trailing the 18-year-old Kim, but the South Korean had built a stunning 8.2-point lead over the Canadian that would have been nearly impossible to make up. Kim thrilled the crowd Saturday with an all-but-flawless free skate to Sheherazade. She landed five triples, her one mistep was a botched triple Salchow.
“Winning the world championships was my dream and I did it,” Kim said. “It is amazing.”
Rochette completed six triples, but her free skate performance wasn’t without its mistakes. She bounced on the landing of a double toeloop as part of her opening combination, and doubled a planned triple loop. But the errors were relatively small, and coupled with her exquisite spins and the grace with which she delivered her program, it was good enough to hold onto silver.
“Even on a night when I didn’t feel my best I was still able to deliver, with the great year I had and the consistent programs I’ve done through the season, and now to do six triples here is pretty good,” Rochette said.
The silver caps a coming-of-age season for Rochette that’s been a long time coming. She was fifth at the 2006 Olympics and fifth at last year’s world championships. She opened this season with a pair of Grand Prix titles, cruised to Canadian title No. 5, and then won silver at the ISU Four Continents in January in Vancouver. Her improvement, she said, comes from a newfound sense of confidence and ease on the ice.
“First time I was at worlds, I would have dreamed it would happen but never believed it,” Rochette said. “This year what made the difference was I started to believe I could accomplish it, and I think it showed in my performance, it gave me more confidence.”
Manley said she’d been nervous for Rochette all day, but thrilled with her breakthrough season.
“I’m probably as exhausted as she is right now,” Manley said, laughing. “It’s good to see her come out of her shell, and say, ‘This is me, this is what I do.’ That’s why I love her.”