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Duhamel/Radford, Weaver/Poje end Canadian droughts with gold at ISU Grand Prix Final

BARCELONA – Canada enjoyed its biggest success at an ISU Grand Prix Final figure skating competition in 13 years on Saturday.

Meaghan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., broke their Canadian record to win the gold medal in pairs and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., also set a personal best for the victory in ice dancing.

It was Canada’s first gold in the Grand Prix Final since Patrick Chan won the men’s competition in 2011 and the first victory in pairs and ice dance since 2001.  At that Grand Prix Final in Kitchener, Ont., Jamie Sale and David Pelletier took the pairs crown and Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz won the ice dance.

Duhamel and Radford produced 220.72 points which bettered their previous best of 213.62 set at the Canadian championships in January 2014.  It also ranks fourth all-time on the ISU scoring list. Olympic silver medallists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov of Russia, the top-seeded pair going into the competition, took the silver at 213.72 and Wenjing Sui and Cong Han of China were third at 194.31.

The highlight of Duhamel and Radford’s free skate on Saturday –performed to music by Muse- was landing the throw quadruple Salchow.  That came just after Duhamel touchdown on both hands the side-by-side triple Lutz.

‘’We were so confident in our quad Salchow that it didn’t matter that I touched on the Lutz,’’ said Duhamel.  ‘’It’s (the quad) has been so consistent for us in practice that we were going for it no matter what.’’

Radford was certainly pleased the green light was on.

‘’We’ve been waiting to have a skate like this all season,’’ said Radford, who mentioned he was in the audience when Sale and Pelletier won their gold in 2001.  ‘’This was the first time that we actually hit the quad like we do in practice.  It is so exciting.’’

After placing first in the short program Thursday, Duhamel and Radford were the last skaters to compete in the six-team event.

‘’We knew the Russian would skate a clean program, they have been so consistent all year,’’ said Duhamel.  ‘’But it always seem to be our fate to go on after a great performances.  We’ve surpassed all our goals for the first half of the season and we want to step it up more for the second half.’’

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In ice dancing, Weaver and Poje bettered their score from last season’s silver medal performance at the world championships with 181.14 points.  Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S. were second at 167.09 and Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France third at 162.39.

‘’It’s definitely our strongest performance yet and it’s great to see the program is still growing,’’ said Poje.  ‘’We really brought across the emotion and we were so connected on the ice that the story really came through.’’

The Canadians skated to excerpts from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

‘’It’s hard to pick out a moment that really stands out for us from what we did on the ice because we were so focused,’’ said Weaver.  ‘’My best memory was probably our lift because it got such a reaction from the crowd.’’

The audience did not agree with the judges’ scores for Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto who took fifth spot.

‘’We had a small bobble on one of the lifts and it probably wasn’t our best skate overall,’’ said Poirier.  ‘’At the same time we didn’t have any big errors and we achieved our goal of producing two strong programs this week.’’

Canada also had a successful showing in the junior competition this week capped by a gold medal for Charlie Bilodeau of Trois-Pistoles, Que., and Julianne Séguin of Longueuil, Que., in pairs on Friday.

NOTE: Skate Canada Communications Director, Barb MacDonald, will be the media contact at the event. To arrange onsite interviews please contact her by email at bm[email protected]

Full results: http://www.isuresults.com/results/gpf1415/

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Golden season so far for Weaver and Poje

OSAKA, Japan– Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont. skated to ice dance gold on Sunday to conclude the NHK Trophy, the sixth stop on the ISU Grand Prix figure skating circuit.

Weaver and Poje have won three international events this season including their two Grand Prix assignments to qualify for the Final December 11-14 in Barcelona.

The world silver medallists totalled 169.42 points skating to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons with Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin of Russia second at 152.54 and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker of the U.S. third at 146.41.

‘’We are very happy with the result,’’ said Poje.  ‘’There are a couple of things we still want to do better for the Grand Prix Final.  But we feel better about the program and connected with it today.’’

The Canadians made some changes to their free dance after their victory at Skate Canada last month.

‘’There were a couple of mistakes but this performance was a real confidence boost,’’ said Weaver.  ‘’Our experience came through today.’’

On Saturday, Meagan Duhamel of Lively, Ont, and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., took gold in pairs and also qualified for the Grand Prix Final.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are stepping out this year, dressed to kill

Shall we say it? Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are stepping out this year, dressed to kill.

It’s not that the reigning world silver medalist ice dancers have ever been swathed in tatters, but this season, knowing full well that only .02 separated them from a gold medal at the world championships last March, they are putting on their best bib and tucker for the challenge this year in Shanghai.

It was game on at the first practice at the Skate Canada International last month, when Poje showed up on the ice in a “suit of lights,” the most extraordinary collection of threads and sequins the sport has ever seen. Of course, the team was skating a Paso Doble, a dramatic and powerful Spanish dance with precise footwork and sharp movement, one of the few dances in which men play the leading role. Weaver, dressed in floating vermilion regalia – also heavily encrusted in gold – was the cape, flying to the toreador’s command in the bullring.

With such a dance, there is no room for subtleties. And Weaver and Poje don’t intend to be subtle. “When we want to be the best in the world, the devil is in the details,” Weaver said. “We knew we had to come out looking good.”

Details? They are extraordinary.

“I think we win the bedazzle award,” said Poje. “I think I have more sparkles than Kaitlyn has this year – which is new for me.”

Poje’s costume is black, yes, but he wears a heavily decorated jacket – with wide gold-encrusted epaulets and wide streams of elaborate embroidery and beads racing down the sides of his legs, true to tradition. As for Weaver, she wears a dress designed by award-winning Canadian theatre designer Debra Hanson. “She’s great at choosing choice materials and the right colours and shades,” Weaver said. Her “cape” is uncommon in that it is not dyed in one shade of red. It starts as a deep cherry red at the bodice and morphs to a fiery orange in the skirt. That, says, Weaver, gives the colour depth.

“It is comfortable and easy wear and I was happy that it was fancy enough for me, and it really lets the spotlight be on Andrew,” she said. (But don’t forget – her bodice front and back are heavily beaded in gold, too, like some ornamental capes.) Hanson, who has worked at the Stratford Festival Theatre and the Canadian Opera Company, designed both costumes. It’s not her first foray into dreaming up skating costumes; she did their Olympic outfits, too.

Weaver and Poje wanted a classic, authentic Paso Doble look. “We looked at all the old figure skating costumes and thought, ‘Okay what can we do it make ours stand out?’” Weaver said.

Yes, there were the simplicities of the Duchesnay’s Paso dress in 1992 – he in simple black, she in a beaded dress – but not as heavily beaded as Weaver’s. That year, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarkenko wore a get up that seemed to have little to do with the Paso character: he in a black shirt with billowy sleeves and she in long black fringe. The 1984 Olympic champions Natalia Bestemianova and Andrei Bukin didn’t look terribly toreador-like when they skated the Paso as an original set pattern dance. She wore a short skirt with tight rows of ruffles, looking more like she was dancing the samba.

And Torvill and Dean? Their 1984 Paso was legendary and danced with correct character; with Dean wearing a short, white decorated bolero jacket and Torvill looking like a matching cape. Finally a Paso breakthrough.

Leave it to Oksana Grishuk and Evgeny Platov to wear costumes that looked more like a “suit of lights” and cape than most other noted skaters at the 1996 world championships. Platov’s togs were heavily decorated in beading and sequins, as was Grishuk’s and the twosome interpreted the concept beautifully.

As soon as Weaver and Poje saw the sketches that Hanson dreamed up, they were sold. It took a couple of weeks of work from various costume artisans to produce the apparel. Weaver and Poje did not have them in time for the Nebelhorn Trophy. They got the costumes just before they left for Skate Canada International in Kelowna and didn’t have much time to practice in them. At home at the Detroit Skating Club, the first time they stepped out on the ice with the outfits, all of their training mates started to applaud. “That’s when we knew we were going in the right direction,” Weaver said.

“It was well worth the wait,” Poje said. On a Wednesday, they skated in the fancy vestments for the first time. On Friday, they competed at Skate Canada International with them.  It wasn’t long before Weaver bore the brunt of the brilliance. She suffers from bead burn – all over – from brushing close to Poje’s costume, perhaps like flying too close to the sun. She says she’s not distracted by it. “What I think is great is that I’ve never seen Andrew so excited by a costume before,” she said. “He’s not one to really get fancy.”

It’s a costume for the ages. Poje thinks his “suit of lights” weighs at least 10 pounds, yet it was designed in such a way that it does not impede his movement. “We should weigh it,” he said mischievously. “It’s the heaviest costume I’ve ever had.”

Most importantly, the costumes do something to both of them psychologically. “It makes me feel like a matador,” Poje said. As soon as he dons it, he feels “so much bigger.” The goal, he said, is to fill the stage and the arena with your presence. “Putting on that costume makes me feel that power,” he said.

That feeling of strength is all-important. “It sounds materialistic in a way, but it really matters.” Weaver said. “The performance starts before you even step on the ice. People are taking in what you are sending out. We want that message to be world class.”

Golden skate in Kelowna for Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje

KELOWNA, B.C. – Hard to believe, but Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje had never won Grand Prix gold before.

They have been fractions of points away from so many major achievements: making an Olympic team, winning a national title, and most recently, winning a world title last spring (missing out by .02 points). They’ve had a wild, long string of seconds and thirds at Grand Prix events in recent years.

This time they left nothing to chance, steering to victory at the Skate Canada International by almost 20 points with a light touch, skating to Max Richter’s version of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.” With it came a standing ovation.

“Between this and Nebelhorn Trophy, we’ve never won so many gold medals,” Weaver said. “It’s kind of cool now.”

Poje intends to do it again.

“I think it has been our goal now, and it feels attainable and it doesn’t take a miracle to get us here,” Weaver said.

It wasn’t as easy as it looked. There was the pressure of being the top-ranked team coming into the event, with no Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in the dressing room. And the pressure of making so many changes, more than they thought, to their free dance, to a lift, to a spin, to transitions, to many little nuances that mean so much since the Nebelhorn Trophy. It felt like they were putting out a new program, but best to make the changes now than later.

“Their not being there made us realize that we need to step into the spotlight with confidence in putting out our programs and everything that we have trained in the off-season,” Poje said. Conquering the pressure this week will be a confidence booster for the future, Weaver said.

“Now success feels attainable”, she added. “It doesn’t take a miracle to get us here.”

Weaver and Poje are the head of a powerful Canadian dance team. Proof of that came with Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier bounding up two places after a mistake in the short program, into winning a silver medal at Skate Canada International.

Elisabeth Paradis and Francois-Xavier Ouellette came from nowhere to look like a threat as well. Although they finished seventh of eight at Skate Canada, Virtue and Moir are impressed with their work from the school of Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. (Virtue and Moir want to try out their choreography, too.)

“It’s an amazing thing,” Weaver said. “Success breeds success.”

The bronze medal was taken by Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who had been second after the short.

There were other standing ovations, too. Tiny 16-year-old Satoko Miyahara skated to “Miss Saigon” and had the crowd on its feet. She took the bronze medal in the women’s event with 181.75 points and a couple of under-rotations.

American Ashley Wagner got one too, for Moulin Rouge routine (and some under-rotations of her own) and she ended with the silver medal and 186.00 points.

The gold medalist was 16-year-old Russian Anna Pogorilaya, who had no under-rotations and earned 191.81 points. She looked shocked. Last year, she had surprised everybody to win Cup of China.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje lead after short dance at Skate Canada International

KELOWNA, B.C. – Halloween night at Skate Canada International. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje came dressed to the nines, in full splendid costume, and won the short dance by almost nine points.

There was no trick or treat about it. For almost every element they received bonuses of +2 and regrettably, lost a point for an extended lift. But their Paso Doble otherwise took flight, along with some healthy component marks as Weaver embodied a vermillion cape, and Poje the decorated toreador, sported jewel-encrusted epaulets and colourful embroidery up the yang yang. A work of art those costumes were.

They’ve come to the table with elements that are almost all new. “This is a time to push the boundaries and push ourselves and come up with new stuff,” Poje said. “And we’ve done that.”

They’ve renovated lifts. As Poje says: “We’ve put a backsplash on it.”

They’ve coming into this season battle-tested and ready for anything. “We’ve been through everything it seems,” Weaver said. “But that just makes us more confident in our partnership, in that we can rely on each other when we need to. What really matters is that the injury taught us so much about efficiency and really enjoying ourselves.”

The best part: there is still room for Weaver and Poje to maximize their levels. They fell short of a world title last March by only .02 points.

The 2011 world junior champions Ksenia Monko and Kirill Khaliavin of Russia are in second place while Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are in third, with only six solid weeks of training behind them. Hubbell underwent surgery for a torn labrum that hampered her last season, but complications ensued. They did not put out the programs on Friday that they had hoped, but it’s a start.

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, eighth in the world last year, let slip a chance to finish in the top three when Poirier fumbled a twizzle that featured an outstretched leg. Close to the boards, he couldn’t pull the leg in front of him and it went awry. They got only a level one for that.

The charming Elisabeth Paradis and Francois-Xavier Ouellette, fourth at their first Grand Prix, Skate America, last week, are sitting in eighth place, with a miscue on a twizzle.

Russian women finished first and third in the women’s short program, with 16-year-old Anna Pogorilaya winning the event (with mistakes) and a revived Alena Leonova, 23, finishing third with an endearing version of Charlie Chaplin. She wanted to do it, she said, because men and pair skaters had done such things – but no women. It was a delight.

Ashley Wagner, a two-time U.S. champion is in second place, skating to “Spartacus.”

Pogorilaya chalked up technical points as if they were going out of style with her triple Lutz – triple toe loop, although she stumbled out of a double Axel. Wagner had higher component marks, about 3 ½ points more of them and with 63.86 points, was only 1.42 points behind Pogorilaya.

Leonova is third with 62.54. She, too, had higher component marks than Pogorilaya.

Leonova says she pays no attention to the multitudes of talented Russian skaters much younger than she is. She continues to skate, she says, because she loves it. It was tough for her to miss the Sochi Olympics, but she vows to continue to the 2018 Games in South Korea.

Weaver and Poje win gold in season debut

OBERSTDORF, Germany – Canadian ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won the gold medal on Saturday at the Nebelhorn Trophy, the traditional opener to the senior figure skating season.

The world championship silver medallists from Waterloo, Ont., unveiled their new short and free programs to the international judges and it appears they aced the test scoring 165.32 points.  Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S. were second at 163.73 and Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi of Germany were third at 147.10.

‘’We were very happy with how the competition concluded,’’ said Weaver.  ‘’We were very calm in our free dance and although it’s new and fresh and early in the season we were able to put out a solid performance.

‘’Of course we have our work cut out for us for Skate Canada (October 31 to November 2 in Kelowna, B.C.). This is a program that is more difficult than what we’ve done in the past.  It requires harder training and harder concentration and we are glad to see we are going in the right direction.’’

It was the second career international victory for the couple.  They also won the Four Continents event in 2010.

‘’This is a great starting point,’’ said Poje.  ‘’We still have much growth to go through from now until the end of the season.  We’re glad we got to present it here and see what the skating community thought of it.  With that feedback we can now work away at it even more for the Grand Prix season.’’

Elisabeth Paradis of Loretteville, Que., and François-Xavier Ouellette of Laval, Que., were fifth.

Elizaveta Tuktamysheva led Russia to a 1-2 finish in women’s competition while Veronik Mallet of Sept-Iles, Que., was seventh.

Canada also placed third in the team standings behind the U.S., in first and Russia.

Full results: http://www.isuresults.com/results/nt2014/

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje look to push the limits with intense and detailed focused programs

It was a box from Sochi, something that she had mailed to herself because she had just collected too much when she was at the Olympic Games to fit her suitcase heading home. She had sent it home on a barge, chugging its way across seas and oceans, and told it would arrive in June. Okay, so it had arrived a little later. But the contents were all intact: newsletters from Sochi, fan gifts, little things, all important enough to keep.

“It was like a time capsule of Olympic memories,” said Poje. “We started thinking about the Olympics and what an amazing experience it was for us, to realize that childhood dream of being at the Games, representing your country in front of that world audience.”

Weaver said the Olympics are addictive. “It’s just everything you dream it will be and more.” A month later, they had even more memories to add to a memorable year: their silver medal at the world championships, only .02 points away from gold. In Saitama, Japan, they had truly arrived.

But in the four or five months since that package of memories arrived from Sochi, Weaver and Poje have pushed on to the next adventure. “We’re not in the shadows anymore,” Weaver said. The silver medal has given them confidence, too. “It felt like we were in the top group and we want to be at the top and continue to be up there, because it was a good feeling,” Poje said. It also puts pressure on them, he said, to put their own mark on the sport.

What could they possibly do for an encore after the brilliant routines of the past couple of years: “Je suis Malade” and “Maria de Buenos Aires?”

It was difficult finding music for the free dance, Poje admitted. “We wanted this year to come out and to show people that we want to be at the top and we want to be strong, and we want to show a new style of ourselves,” he said.

Before they left on two weeks of holidays in the spring, they showed up at the home of coaches Anjelika Krylova and Pasquale Camerlengo, intent on listening to music. But they were met at the door by their coaches, announcing that they had found their short program music. And that was that.

They love it: it’s a classical piece of Paso Doble that has flamenco mixed into it. The music, said Poje, speaks of the statuesque bearing of the matador, but it’s graceful, too. Weaver and Poje love Latin rhythms. It should be interesting to see how teams adjust to the new International Skating Union rules that call for one of the two compulsory dance patterns to be creative.

“It gives us the ability to bring out our own style and flair to the Paso pattern, while still keeping the key points of the compulsory dance in there,” Poje said. “We like to push ourselves.”

Camerlengo choreographed the piece and Weaver and Poje worked with a ballroom dancer for the style.

Finding the free dance music was more challenging. But choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne found the perfect piece of music to allow Weaver and Poje to take their next step: Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons.”

But it’s not your normal “Four Seasons.” It’s not the iconic, classical piece so oft-used by many skaters. This version has been recomposed by Max Richter, a young German-born British composer, considered one of the most influential of the past decade. Classically trained, Richter adds a contemporary interpretation to his music, clearly influenced by electronica. Some have called his work “achingly gorgeous.”

This version premiered in Britain two years ago. Richter notes that he discarded 75 per cent of Vivaldi’s original material. Richter takes his favourite bits and makes new objects out of them in a way that pleases him by subtly weaving delicate electronic touches into them. The result is an enchanting sound.

“Shae-Lynn always seems to know the right step for us,” Weaver said. “She told us that it has weight. It’s dignified and it’s something that will show many different facets of our skating.”

This piece is very challenging to perform. “We’re working on it a lot right now,” Weaver said. “It’s very technically demanding, which is a good thing, because we are trying to up our game in every aspect.” They haven’t done a classical routine like this before, and they believe it will take them to the next level in their career.

“At this point, we need to reinvent ourselves and show a bigger, stronger Kaitlyn and Andrew than ever seen before,” Weaver said. “I think this program can do that. It’s intense. It’s dramatic and it shows what we’re best at.”

Weaver and Poje intend to do a senior B international competition before they start up the Grand Prix season at Skate Canada in Kelowna, B.C. in late October. Last year they did the U.S. Figure Skating Classic at Salt Lake City and were grateful to get early feedback. But this year, it may not necessarily be Salt Lake. There is also a new senior international B competition in October in Barrie, Ont.

For now, they are paying attention to every detail, leaving no stone unturned. “We’re fully committed,” Weaver said. Their coaches are, too. Every day, they hear: “It’s not good enough.” They are pushing themselves. “Our coaching team says we’re that close,” Weaver said. “We’re going to make it so that [finishing second] doesn’t happen again.”

It’s exhausting, but also very exciting and motivating, Weaver said. They still have so much room to grow in so many areas. “I feel like we’re just starting,” Poje said.

Weaver and Poje win silver in ice dance thriller at ISU World Figure Skating Championships

SAITAMA, Japan – Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., won the silver medal on Saturday in ice dancing finishing a mere 0.02 points from top spot at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships.

Canada ends the four-day competition with two medals. On Thursday, Meaghan Duhamel of Lively, Ont., and Eric Radford of Balmertown, Ont., earned bronze in pairs.

In ice dancing only 1.05 points separated the top four finishers. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy held on to top spot despite the fourth best free dance of the day with 175.43 points. Weaver and Poje ranked third in the free and followed at 175.41 to remain second. Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France were third at 175.37.

‘’I’m just feeling ecstatic right now,’’ said Poje. ‘’This one moment is because of the combination of all the hard work that we’ve had, especially over these past couple of years, and showing by our grit and determination that we wanted to be up near the top. I feel that we deserve to be up here now.’’

‘’I can’t believe that we performed the free dance today the best we have all year under the pressure of the circumstances of the top teams being so close,’’ added Weaver. ‘’I’m just so proud of Andrew and I and the work we have done this year.’’

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto took eighth place and Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam of Barrie, Ont., were 10th.

‘’We’re really pleased with the performance,’’ said Poirier. ‘’ I don’t think it was 100 per cent perfect, but I don’t think we have any regrets about how it went. ‘’

In women’s competition, Mao Asada of Japan won the gold medal. Kaetlyn Osmond of Marystown, N.L., was 11th and Gabrielle Daleman of Newmarket, Ont., 13th.

‘’It wasn’t the performance I wanted to have,’’ said Osmond, eighth after the short. ‘’I love this program, I have loved skating it and I really wanted to show it off tonight.’’

Full results: http://www.isuresults.com/results/wc2014/index.htm

Louis Daignault

Sizzling short dance puts Weaver and Poje second at ISU World Figure Skating Championships

SAITAMA, Japan – Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., are only 0.5 points from top spot after the short dance on Friday at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships.

Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy are first at 69.70, Weaver and Poje follow at 69.20 and Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France are third at 68.20.

“This is definitely where we want to be,” said Poje. “We are in the attacking position of the top spot. We feel that we’ve put great work into this season and we want to end on a high note and put out two solid performances.”

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto are 10th and Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam of Barrie, Ont., 11th.

It was a 1-2 finish for Japan in men’s competition with Yuzuru Hanyu earning the gold medal with 282.59 points and Tatsuki Machida the silver at 282.26. Javier Fernandez of Spain was third at 275.93.

The Canadian men were much better in the free skate. Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., climbed from 15th to 11th, world junior champion Nam Nguyen of Toronto from 16th to 12th and Elladj Balde of Pierrefonds, Que., from 22nd to 17th.

“I was able to stay on my feet throughout the jumps, and that really helped because there weren’t so many major disruptions in the program,” said Reynolds, who ranked 10th for the free skate. “The whole season was a giant learning experience, and I can take from that knowing I can still skate my best even though I’m not feeling even close to where I’d like to be.”

Nguyen executed a triple Axel triple-triple toe combo for the first time in a competitive program.

“This week my Axels weren’t on, so I was really worried,” said Nguyen, who ranked ninth for the free skate. “As I approached the first Axel, the adrenaline started building up and I went for it. It was amazing.”

Competition ends Saturday with the free dance and women’s free skate.

Louis Daignault

Weaver, Poje ready to step into ice dance spotlight

For the better part of their career, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje have been riding shotgun to Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, patiently waiting for their chance to take the wheel.

That moment seems to have arrived.

With the towering flame at the Sochi Olympics no longer burning, Weaver, 24, and Poje, 27, have turned their attention to Saitama, Japan, where they are part of the 17-member team wearing the Canadian colours at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships.

For Weaver and Poje, this week signals both an end and a beginning – the end of another season, the beginning of what may become the defining chapter of their careers.

This time around, they are entering worlds as the de facto number one ice dance team in Canada. Virtue and Moir are passing on worlds this year, and while nothing official has been announced, the general consensus is the six-time Canadian ice dance champions and 2010 Olympic gold medallists will retire from competitive skating in the coming weeks.

Opportunity knocks for Weaver and Poje, and they are ready to walk right in.

“Everyone knew there would be a day when Tessa and Scott, Meryl (Davis) and Charlie (White) weren’t going to grace the competitive rinks but now that it’s here, it’s like ‘wait, what are we going to do now?’ It’s a little strange to not have them there on the list.

“We’re ready. I feel like we’re ready to take over.”

Not only are Virtue and Moir taking a pass on the world championships, but Davis and White, a month after claiming Olympic gold in Sochi, will not chase a third world crown in Japan.

These world championships represent the unofficial changing of the guard in ice dance, and Weaver and Poje, coming off a seventh place showing in Sochi, want to make sure they make their presence felt early on. For one week at least, Virtue, Moir, Davis and White aren’t putting up an imposing roadblock on the path to the podium.

“It’s going to be a free for all,” says Weaver. “I really do believe everyone is in this predicament where anything can happen.”

“We definitely want to make a great impression on the judges, because they’ll be wondering who will step up to the plate,” adds Poje.

It is unique a world championships as you will find, with the top two teams on the planet taking a rain check. But Weaver and Poje aren’t focused on who isn’t in Saitama. A world title is a world title. There won’t be an asterisk in the history books next to the 2014 world champions because Virtue, Moir, Davis and White didn’t compete.

As far as timing goes, Weaver and Poje know this is the chance they’ve been waiting for, and they’re ready to meet the challenge.

“We’ve always prided ourselves on being the underdogs, and we’ve been working so hard these past couple of weeks – we’ve been working so hard this whole season – because we knew this moment could be a reality,” says Weaver.

“We’ve been preparing our whole lives for these types of moments.”

Marty Henwood

Olympian Profile: Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje may be going to the Sochi Olympics as Canada’s number two ice dancing team, but they have turned into a charismatic force in their own right.

They choose music that sticks with you. They hold nothing back when they perform. They fly around the ice at great speed, he a 6-foot-3 force majeure, she an expressive, silky-footed coryphée with intense wattage. Together, they have earned the third highest scores (175.23) in the world in ice dance this Olympic season, although less than four points separate four teams who desperately want that bronze medal in Sochi.

Weaver and Poje have been together eight years and it’s been a whirlwind of quick success, stunning disappointment, brutal injury, triumph and lots of lots of standing ovations. Weaver had been a junior dancer from Houston, Texas, one of many trying out with Poje, a native of Waterloo, Ont., in the summer of 2006. Poje had tagged along to the rink with his sister, Julia, and found ice dancing suited him better than anything else. “At the very first tryout, we knew there was something,” Weaver said. “I knew I should do this.”

“People could tell right from the beginning,” said Poje. “We did so much so fast. We were thrust into opportunities. And then we had some growing pains.” Poje started with coach Paul McIntosh when he was five or six. MacIntosh was one of the early coaches of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. He’s good at incubating ice dancers who become magnificent, apparently.

Now they’ve won seven medals at Canadian championships, bronze in senior after only five months together. Troubles: after Weaver raced to get her Canadian citizenship, they missed a trip to the 2010 Vancouver Olympics by three-tenths of a point, a crushing disappointment.

“It’s still a sore spot,” Weaver said. “I can tell you as I’m standing here right now that it makes me emotional about how we felt about that event four years ago. But that is the reason we don’t want to ever let that happen again and have been pushing ourselves so hard for the past four years. It feels like a lifetime ago and we’re different people now.”

She said they had to engage in a little “short term” memory for the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships that followed a week later. But they decided not to feel sorry for themselves, vowing to show the world what they could do. And they won it, with grace.

Their short dance this season to 42nd Street has received high praise on the international scene.

Their transitions into elements are mainly seamless. They have a lot of good connecting steps. They deliver a lot of innovative lifts, but they are never the sort of lifts where the arms and legs flail around into impossible positions. Each lift creates a picture, framed with the music. Their programs are spun by creative people: Pasquale Camerlengo and Shae-Lynn Bourne.

The free dance, to the crushing rawness of “Maria de Buenos Aires,” is a masterpiece of interpretation, according to Rod Garrossino, himself an ice dancer in his day. It is not easy to portray that raw sort of tango, he says, and they have captured it perfectly.

“This dance is the polar opposite to the short dance,” Poje said. “It’s very passionate and the program relies heavily on our connection and it’s to tango operetta.” The music has soul and emotion: perfect for this team who can wring tears out of thin air.

Indeed, they got a standing ovation at their first practice for just showing up at the world championship in London, Ontario last season, after Weaver suffered a fractured fibula, the small bone in the lower leg. The doctors’ prognosis: Weaver need not expect to get her foot back into her boot until April, 2013. The world championships were in March. Weaver skated in pain, with pins pressing against her boot. It was as gallant a comeback as Silken Laumann’s effort to get ready for the Barcelona Olympics after a training accident mangled a lower leg.

Weaver says her mother, Jackie, is the wind beneath her wings. “She is everything to me,” she said. “Every time I doubt myself, she tells me: ‘You can do this.’ She’s helped me to become the sublime optimist that I am. I have taken that into my partnership with Andrew.”

She says now that she’s forgotten about the injury, but acknowledges that their gritty comeback – and fifth-place finish at worlds – drove them both to greater heights. They found out how much they could push themselves to do what seemed impossible.

Now their aim is to be on the Olympic podium, standing beside Virtue and Moir. “I think we have every right, every ability to be there,” Weaver said.

They will go to the Olympics with no regrets. “I feel like we’re in a great place,” Weaver said. “Now we just need to keep working.”

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Beverley Smith

Geoffrey Tyler brings tap dancing to the ice with Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje’s 42nd Street short dance

Geoffrey Tyler is a Toronto-based dancer, singer, actor, director, and a musician. He’s had a stage career and a screen career. He’s been on radio. He played the Artful Dodger when he was 10. But now this gregarious hoofer can also call himself a performance coach and a choreographer for figure skaters.

This season, Tyler has choreographed a competitive figure skating program for the first time in his varied career. Nothing was going to stop Tyler from attempting this new life experience when ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje approached him with their latest interesting quest: They needed a short dance routine to music from “42nd Street.” Weaver came up with the music; she had skated to it when she was six years old.

“That was in my wheelhouse,” Tyler said. After all, last year, he played a role in the Stratford production of the musical about a musical. Poje figured he knew the production inside out. The dance team was looking for authenticity.

“We wanted to bring something different to what we were doing this year,” Poje said. “We wanted to bring something a little fun. He was excited as soon as we asked him to come on board.”

It’s not as if Tyler was a stranger to Weaver and Poje. They turned to him as a performance coach for their poignant “Je Suis Malade” routine for the 2011-2012 season and listened to his performance philosophy: look at each other, commit to authentic, honest communication because the audience will recognize sincerity.

And that season they did listen and learn. Weaver and Poje competed a lot that season with “Je Suis Malade,” with the intent of winning a medal at every competition they entered, a tall order. They came close. They did three Grand Prix events, winning silver at each, and made it to the Grand Prix Final, where they were fourth. They used “Je Suis Malade” to finish fourth at the 2012 world championships in Nice, France. Most notably, Weaver and Poje received standing ovations at all of these performances, even Nice. Coach Anjelika Krylova was moved, too. She wiped away tears on the sidelines in France.

“On the ice, we still really relate to people trying to communicate with each other,” Tyler said. “I start by asking: ‘What is your piece about? Why are you doing it? What do you like about it? What does this say about unrequited love?’ They took to it like ducks to water. Kaitlyn said: ‘This is what we should be doing.”

The judges are one thing, the audience another. “People come to be moved,” Tyler said. “Technical is exceptionally important. But performance is what makes it magical. I try to take the technical and make it magical.”

If you do it right, Tyler mused, people will think you are not doing anything technical at all. He knows he’s done his job when coaches remark to him that they forgot to watch their skaters’ feet.

“We had good success [with Tyler] in the past,” Poje said. “We knew this would be a good endeavour.”

None of this is new to Tyler, really. He met Kurt Browning by chance at a time when Browning was venturing beyond figure skating, playing a Peter Pan that soared high above a Toronto stage. There was a meeting of the minds, two artists reaching into each other’s playground. Tyler taught the skater how to play a guitar, Browning taught the dancer to skate. Eventually, Tyler helped Browning make a program he had in mind come to life. Curious, Tyler translated ideas onto ice, with Browning’s fanciful glide. And one year, at the Toronto stop of Stars On Ice, Tyler appeared on ice with Browning – and sung his music for him while on skates.

Tap dancing is another story. There is no glide in tapping, unless you’re one of the Nicholas Brothers of the 1940s. They defied gravity and friction. In the Broadway musical “42nd Street,” the curtain rises on 40 pairs of feet tapping. Translating that onto the ice “is a huge problem,” Tyler said. “But I know how to smooth things out.” He makes it seamless, another Tyler habit.

While Weaver recovered from surgery last spring, Tyler taught the team to tap dance. “I was off ice for a month,” Weaver said. “I did physio all day. But before we were allowed back on the ice, we started tap dancing a little bit because we knew we were going to go down the “42nd Street” route.” She could not skate with an incision in her ankle. Lessons were hard.

“Tap dancers make it look way easier than it is,” Weaver said. “It’s quite challenging, really, but we thought this would be an interesting route to go down. I think this program suits us very well. The tap was very necessary for us to get the right feel of the program.”

Tyler taught them steps off the ice, then they developed them together on the ice, and took what translated best. A couple of months later, Tyler was hoofing it, himself, on a stage in Barrie, Ont. “I’m hoofing like a mad cat …while we all sing and dance,” he wrote on his website.

“It’s really hard to get the ankles to move that quick,” Poje said. “We try to push our limits every year.”

Tyler has travelled far to practice his craft: all over Canada, and the United States, Europe, including London’s West End. But skating has taken him even further. During last spring, Tyler spent a month in Asia with Browning for Artistry on Ice in China and Yuna Kim’s All That Skate in Korea.

An artist born in Georgetown, Tyler rarely sits still. Just check out his twitter handle: @mypantsronfire. It all fits somehow.

Beverley Smith