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World champion Kim Yu-na set a world’s best in dominating the competition in the ladies' short program, but Canadian Joannie Rochette stole the show for her courage, skating to third place just two days after her mother's death from a heart attack.
Kim earned 78.50 points on Tuesday night with her electric "bond girl" performance, which gives her a 4.72 edge over Japan’s Mao Asada going into Thursday’s free skate. Kim carries the weight of trying to become the first South Korean Olympic medalist in ice-skating.
Rochette’s experience was altogether different, having to take to the ice while still processing her mother Therese’s sudden death Sunday in Vancouver.
Rochette fought back tears as she prepped for her routine then rocked a triple Lutz-double toeloop combination, then a triple flip. She finished in third place with a score of 71.36, 2.52 points behind Asada.
After the heroic performance she finally burst into tears and let herself be comforted on her longtime coach's shoulder.
"The way she skated tonight -- I applaud her," said American skater Rachael Flatt, 17, who came in fifth behind Japan's Miki Ando. Another American, Mirai Nagasu, 16, fought off a bloody nose that started while she was on the ice to move into sixth place.
The highly anticipated and dramatic figure skating event capped a day when Team U.S.A picked up its 26th medal, a silver, in the Nordic combined team relay, losing by 5.2 seconds to Austria.
The U.S. has never won a Nordic combined medal at any Games -- until Vancouver.
The event saw contenders take one competition jump from the large hill and then compete in a 4x5-km cross-country relay. Team member Johnny Spillane won silver in the individual normal hill event on Feb. 14.
But the Americans suffered other setbacks on the slopes.
Bode Miller, who famously washed out at the 2006 games in Turin, but has medaled three times in the current games, wiped out in his first run of the giant slalom. Teammate Ted Ligety, a favorite in the Olympic event, also fell short, landing at a disappointing ninth.
Team U.S.A was shut out of the event, as Swiss skier Carlo Janka took gold and two Norwegians, Kjetil Jansrud and Aksel Lund Svindal, respectively won silver and bronze.
Other medal events Tuesday included men's 10,000-meter speedskating, which saw the stunning disqualification of favorite Sven Kramer and a brilliant gold-medal winning performance by South Korea's Lee Seung-Hoon.
Kramer mistakenly switched to the inside while coming off of a turn on the track, a move that meant the Dutch favorite skated the last eight laps of his race -- otherwise seemingly flawless -- in the wrong lane.
The first round of the men's ice hockey playoffs also finished Tuesday, as Switzerland and Canada both advanced to the quarterfinal round, as Canada demolished opponent Germany 8-2 and the Swiss defeated Belarus in a 3-2 shootout win.
Switzerland now faces the U.S. team in today's quarterfinals, while Canada will take on Russia.
After 12 days of competition, the Americans have a 3-medal edge over Germany in the standings, though both nations are tied at seven golds and nine silvers apiece.