Tearful Rochette wows crowd, Yuna on top

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By Pritha Sarkar

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - A grieving Joannie Rochette held her nerve for three incredible minutes on Tuesday and dazzled the crowd with a short program that left her third at the halfway stage of the Olympic ice skating competition.

South Korean Kim Yuna led after a record-breaking display but it was Canadian Rochette who stole the show after breaking down in tears on the ice just two days after her mother's sudden death.

"Words cannot describe (how I feel)," she said in a statement read by Skate Canada's high performance director Mike Slipchuk.

"It's hard to be precise but 10 years from now I'd want to come back and try this again -- I have no regrets.

"(It was a) very nice warm welcome, hard to handle but I appreciate the support. I'll remember this forever.

The six-times Canadian champion had somehow managed to put on a brave face in public throughout the past 48 hours despite the personal torment she has been going through since her father broke the tragic news to her early on Sunday morning.

She brought a lump to everyone's throat on Tuesday when she took to the ice looking remarkably composed and maintained that aura of calm during her sultry performance to La Cumparsita.

When the music ended, the crowd leapt to their feet and an emotional Rochette could no longer hold back the tears.

With her right hand on her heart, and shaking with emotion, the 24-year-old bowed to all corners of the Pacific Coliseum before skating off the ice and into the comforting arms of her coach Manon Perron.

She was rewarded for her courage with a score of 71.36 points to stand third behind Yuna and Japan's Mao Asada.

Yuna broke her own record for the highest score in a women's short program with 78.50 and fellow 19-year-old Asada earned 73.78. (Editing by Ed Osmond)