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Gilles and Poirier Open International Season with Victory at Autumn Classic International

PIERREFONDS, Que. – Ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto opened their international season Saturday with a victory to conclude the Autumn Classic International figure skating competition.

The world championship bronze medallists earned 208.97 points for top spot with Olivia Smart and Adrian Diaz of Spain second at 191.31 and Caroline Green and Michael Parsons of the U.S. third at 188.43.

‘’We’re very pleased with the way both programs went,’’ said Poirier. ‘’We didn’t try to force things or have that perfect skate. We just want to get everything sharper and we’re really excited to deliver such a strong showing and show that we keep improving.’’

Marjorie Lajoie of Boucherville, Que., and Zachary Lagha of St-Hubert, Que., the 2019 world junior champions, totalled 181.74 for fourth.

‘’We’re really happy with the free dance and we didn’t hold back,’’ said Lagha. ‘’During the off season we really worked on our skating skills and made some needed changes to our programs.’’

Carolane Soucisse of Chateauguay, Que., and Shane Firus of North Vancouver were fifth and Haley Sales of Kelowna, B.C., and Nikolas Wamsteeker of Langley, B.C. took sixth.

In an all-Canadian men’s event, Conrad Orzel of Woodbridge, Ont., took the gold with 207.31 points, Bennet Toman of Brampton, Ont., was second at 172.33 and Beres Clements of Gibson, B.C., third at 153.48.

After landing two quads in the short on Friday, Orzel couldn’t execute them cleanly in the free skate and he also fell on one of his triple Axels.

‘’There’s some good takeaways from this competition despite a really bad long,’’ said Orzel, 21, sixth at this event in 2019. ‘’There’s no way of sugar coating it, it was not what I had been showing in practice. But it helps me re-evaluate how I should prepare when I compete.’’

Besides Saturday’s four medals, Canada also won a silver in pairs with Vanessa James and Eric Radford on Friday.

Full results: https://results.skatecanada.ca/2021ACI/

James and Radford Take Silver in International Debut at Autumn Classic International

PIERREFONDS, Que. – Vanessa James and Eric Radford launched their new partnership for Canada with a silver medal in pairs on Friday at the Autumn Classic International figure skating competition.

This past April, two-time world champion and three-time Olympic medallist Radford announced he was coming out of retirement to skate for Canada once again. But this time it was with new partner Vanessa James, a European champion and world championship medallist who formerly competed for France.

Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara of Japan stayed in first place for the victory Friday with 204.06 points followed by the new Canadian pair with 184.01. Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc of the U.S. hung on for third with 170.64.

Skating to Harry Styles, James and Radford opened with a solid triple twist and executed a clean throw triple Salchow later on. But they were shaky on their side-by-side jumps with James falling once and stepping out of another.

‘’We were hoping for better obviously,’’ said Radford, 36. ‘’But there’s so much for us we have to keep in perspective, and we are finding out how to do this. We know we are going to have a clearer target at our next competition. We have a huge opportunity here and that’s how we are going to take this.’’

‘’For me it’s a learning lesson on how to control my stress,’’ added the 33-year-old James, born in Scarborough, Ont. ‘’I’m taking this as a step in our career.’’

Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps of Vaudreuil, Que., missed a berth on the podium by less than a point finishing fourth at 169.91 while Lori-Ann Matte and Thierry Ferland of Levis, Que., remained seventh.

In the women’s free skate, Marilena Kitromillis of Cyprus won the gold ahead of two South Koreans: Young You and Seoyeon Ji.

Emily Bausback of Vancouver, B.C. was the top Canadian climbing from ninth to seventh. Gabrielle Daleman of Newmarket, Ont., was eighth and Alison Schumacher of Tecumseh, Ont., 10th.

“There’s a lot of positive takeaways from this competition,’’ said Bausback, whose free skate ranked sixth. ‘’I learned a lot about myself and how to deal with my nerves. It’s something I can build on going into Skate Canada International.’’

In ice dancing, world championship bronze medallists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto, Ont. are first after the rhythm dance with 83.35, Olivia Smart of Adrian Diaz of Spain are second at 75.20 and Caroline Green and Michael Parsons of the U.S. third at 73.93.

‘’We were very pleased with our speed today because it’s always hard to come out for the first event and not overdo it,’’ said Gilles. ‘’We skated very sensible and considering where we are in the season, we are super happy.’’

There are three other Canadian entries: Marjorie Lajoie of Boucherville, Que., and Zachary Lagha of St-Hubert, Que., are fourth at 71.27, Carolane Soucisse of Chateauguay, Que., and Shane Firus of North Vancouver are fifth at 65.11 and Haley Sales of Kelowna, B.C., and Nikolas Wamsteeker of Langley, B.C. are sixth at 59.91.

All three entries in men’s competition are Canadian. After the short program, Conrad Orzel of Woodbridge, Ont., is first with 80.82 points, Bennet Toman of Brampton, Ont., second at 63.30 and Beres Clements of Gibson, B.C., third at 55.48.

‘’I was really nervous and holding back on some of the jumps,’’ said Orzel, 21, in his third season at the senior level.

The ISU Challenger Series provides an opportunity for senior skaters to compete at an international level and earn world ranking points.

Competition ends Saturday at the Pierrefonds Sportplexe with the men’s free skate and the free dance.

Full results: https://results.skatecanada.ca/2021ACI/

Weaver and Poje win bronze at ISU Four Continents

TAIPEI CITY – Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., won the bronze medal Friday in ice dancing at the ISU Four Continents Championships while Patrick Chan of Toronto stands fifth after the men’s short program.

Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje

In ice dancing, the Americans finished 1-2. Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani took the gold with 181.62 points and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the world championship silver medallists, followed at 174.64.

Weaver and Poje, the defending champions, followed at 173.85.

“We didn’t have our strongest skate,” said Weaver. “We fought through, we didn’t let it discourage us. Most days things come together for us but some days it doesn’t. Today was one of those. We’re still happy to go home with a bronze medal and we know we are capable of being the best.”

Poje says the result just fires them up even more for the next month’s world championships in Boston.

“We are going to use this as a learning experience,” he said. “We are going to make sure we get out the little stumbles and bumps out of the program. We plan to go into Boston full of confidence and full of energy.”

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto were fifth and Elisabeth Paradis of Loretteville, Que., and François-Xavier Ouellette of Laval, Que.,were sixth.

In the men’s short program, Boyang Jin of China stands first at 98.45 with Shoma Uno of Japan second at 92.99 and Han Yan of China third at 89.57. Takahito Mura of Japan is fourth at 89.08 followed by Chan at 86.22, a season’s best in international competition.

‘’I haven’t felt comfortable in training all week,’’ said Chan, who sat out last season. ‘’Considering that, I’m really happy with the skate, staying on feet, playing it smart and not making major mistakes. Staying in the final group for the free skate was also important.’’

Chan, a three-time world champion, says he is following his game plan.

‘’This season I want to take my time, be methodical. So far every competition it has been getting better,’’ he said.

Liam Firus of North Vancouver is 14th and Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., 20th.

Competition continues Saturday with the free skates in pairs and women’s competition.

Full results: ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships

Meet the Senior Ice Dancers

KAITLYN WEAVER / ANDREW POJE

Kaitlyn and Andrew were riding a perfect season last year before settling for bronze at the ISU World Championships. The two-time world medallists and defending Canadian champions have been members of the national team for a decade. In fact, Halifax holds a special place in the hearts – they made their debut in Canada at the 2007 Canadian championships in the Maritime city, finishing third behind Marie-France Dubreuil / Patrice Lauzon (gold) and Tessa Virtue / Scott Moir (silver).

DID YOU KNOW: Kaitlyn and Andrew are both taking classes at the University of Waterloo – Kaitlyn is studying public relations and media, and Poje is focused on biomedical science.

PIPER GILLES / PAUL POIRIER

Since teaming together in 2011, Gilles and Poirier have established themselves as one of Canada’s top ice dance tandems. The three-time Canadian medallists display a high level of artistry in their programs and despite facing injury issues in recent seasons, remain energetic crowd pleasers thanks to their creative lifts and extraordinary performance ability. Away from the rink, Piper is immersed in the fashion world, and does much of the outfit design for their programs. One day, she hopes to launch her own line of sports clothing.

FUN FACT: Piper was an extra in a Simple Plan music video; Paul, meanwhile, admits he is “really bad” at parking cars.

ALEXANDRA PAUL / MITCH ISLAM

The three-time Canadian bronze medallists have new coaches, who just happen to be their skating idols: Olympians and two-time world silver medallists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. Earlier this year, Paul and Islam, who represented Canada at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic games, placed second at the Nebelhorn Trophy and will be looking for their fourth podium finish since 2011 at the 2016 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships.

FUN FACT: Alexandra is a big fan of the show Gilmore Girls, and figure she has watched the entire series at least five times; if Mitch is watching TV, he is usually tuned in to Mad Men.

ÉLISABETH PARADIS / FRANÇOIS-XAVIER OUELLETTE

Teaming up in 2010, this personable tandem are making their way up the Canadian ice dance ranks, highlighted by a bronze-medal finish at 2015 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. And they are likely only to get better as they continue to train under former Olympians and two-time ice dance world silver medallists Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.

FUN FACT: Elisabeth plays the tenor saxophone in her spare time while François likes to do some heavy lifting by renovating houses.

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.

Gilles Twins Skating a Frozen Path to Success

By: Amy Rosewater

Piper Gilles recalls many childhood moments with her mother, Bonnie, dressing up her and her twin sister, Alexe, in princess costumes and toting them to Disney on ice shows.

Not surprisingly, the Gilles twins, now 22, went on to become skaters.

Alexe indeed has become a skating princess, and Piper, is a competitive ice dancer, and their mom couldn’t be more proud.

This weekend, Piper will be competing as an ice dancer in Skate Canada International with Paul Poirier, while Alexe, a former competitive singles skater, will be skating in the role of Disney’s trendiest princess, Elsa, from the hit movie, “Frozen.”

“My mom used to dress us up all the time,” Piper said with a laugh. “I think she had the most fun at the shows. Now it’s so fun to be in the stands and watch my sister in the show. It is so cute to see all these girls dressed up to see her skate.”

Piper got a chance to see Alexe perform in the “Disney on Ice’ Princesses and Heroes Tour,” earlier this month. Piper had just skated to a silver medal at the Skate Canada Autumn Classic in Barrie, Ont. Then she and her mother and Alex Johnson, a skater who is a longtime friend of Piper’s and Alexe’s, hopped in the car and drove about four hours to Detroit.

“We wanted to see her perform in her opening show,” Piper said. “It was great. When we got there everyone was in the spirit. You got cotton candy and you would see crowns and Elsa braids. Everyone was singing the songs.”

They ended up going to the show two nights, and Piper left with an added appreciation of what he sister is doing. Yes, the show is fun and the kids are enjoying seeing their favorite princess come to life on the ice, but life on the tour is not easy.

Alexe is performing difficult routines, some include double Axels and triple toe loops, and they do them while wearing heavy costumes and elaborate wigs. Alexe said her braid is attached to her dress with a magnet. Often the skaters perform in multiple shows a day and are in and out of cities.

“It’s fun though to see a different side of skating,” Piper said. “It’s very character-based and it’s fun to see some of the skaters skating and lip-synching and things like that.”

Alexe said her role as Elsa is “pretty magical,” and loves meeting with children who are starry-eyed when they see her in full Disney regalia.

“Competitive skating is so much more stressful,” Alexe said. “This is more of a personal reward … hearing little kids in awe of you instead of being judged.”

Alexe, who won the 2008 U.S. junior title and later competed as a singles skater for Canada, had been coaching in Colorado Springs when she heard about tryouts for the Disney tour.

She began rehearsing with the tour in Florida in July and started touring with “Frozen on Ice.” Then Disney made a separate segment with “Frozen” numbers in its “Princesses and Heroes Tour” and Alexe was traveling back and forth for a while between the two shows.

This weekend, Alexe is in Cincinnati and will be checking online to find out results from her sister’s performances at Skate Canada in Kelowna, British Columbia.

As twins, the two have always been close, so the great distances between them lately has been difficult. Bonnie Gilles has been traveling quite a bit to see both of her daughters skate. She was in Atlanta for several Disney shows and then at Piper’s competitions. She is in Kelowna this weekend.

“I love watching the Disney shows,” Bonnie said. “And Elsa is the role of a lifetime. She wanted the role and was lucky to get it.”

“I think my mom went to the show like seven times in Atlanta,” Piper said with a laugh. “She knows all the songs, when the fireworks come. I had to tell her not to tell me anything so there would be some surprise.”

Before Piper had teamed up with Poirier in 2011, she, too, had considered performing in shows such as Disney on Ice.

“I had quit (competitive) skating for a year and was looking at show skating but I wasn’t ready to be done,” Piper said.

She is glad to be still competing. Although an ankle injury disrupted his training last season and she and Poirier finished fourth at Canadian nationals — one spot shy of making the Olympic team in Sochi — they placed eighth at the worlds championships and have high hopes for this season. This weekend, Piper will be focused on the Paso Doble for her short dance and are skating to a free dance with big-band music.

The two likely won’t be able to see each other over the holidays because of their travel and training schedules. But they will be thinking of each other and rooting for each other.

“It will be the first time we won’t be together for Christmas and won’t feel like Christmas without her,” Piper said. “Maybe we will just put Frozen on repeat all throughout the holiday.”

 

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier use Olympic champion Christopher Dean to channel the Paso Doble

With the ominous notes of their Hitchcock free dance in their rear view mirrors, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier wanted a more traditional theme for their short dance this season.

Traditional theme, yes. Traditional choreographer, no.

Imagine the kick of having 1984 Olympic champion Christopher Dean design your short dance – to the Paso Doble rhythm. Gilles and Poirier headed to Colorado Springs in May to do just that.

Perhaps it doesn’t need saying, but Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean performed the iconic Paso Doble routine during the 1984 season, and although they seem to be most remembered for their “Bolero” free dance, there were some who felt just as many – if not more – goosebumps while witnessing their Paso Doble. They did get six marks of 6.0 for it at the European championships, where they probably performed it the best.  Not quite sure what that 6.0 meant? Perfection.

On the cover of their 1984 biography, done by The Times reporter John Hennessy, is a photograph of Torvill and Dean in Paso Doble dress, and what a costume. It wasn’t red as most expected for a Paso. They wore white, black and gold. And Torvill’s dress with the flowing cape, with white folds hanging deliciously down from her outstretched arms – would anybody ever see the like again?

To begin with, Dean wasn’t so sure he wanted to attempt to choreograph a short dance because he hadn’t done one before. The short dance didn’t exist in his day. His Paso Doble, to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov”s Capriccio Espanol, was a set pattern dance, with their novel pattern repeated three times. This new short program combines the old short dance with the compulsory dance, with some new rule changes added this year.

“Let’s play around,” he said.

“We just got on the ice and started doing stuff,” he said. “Yeah, let’s connect this,” Poirier said. “And we left with a program.”

Strangely enough, Dean was “adamant” that they use his old Paso from Capriccio Espanol, Gilles said.

“It was kind of a little bit of an honour for him to want us to use that piece,” Gilles said. “We looked for other pieces, but this one seemed to fit.”

The Capriccio Espanol music comprises the second half of their routine. “We really have to do it justice,” Gilles said.

And the costume? It’s well reminiscent of Torvill and Dean’s marvelous threads from 1984. But Gilles wears a black cape, rather than a white one, and it falls lower below the arms. “He originally wanted to do the cape exactly like Jayne’s,” Gilles said. “But we wanted to do something a little bit different from that, just because we’re a different team.”

They liked the black and white concept, but added dashes of pink.

By wearing such a cape, even though it differs from Torvill’s, Gilles truly walked in her shoes. In the early days of Torvill and Dean’s training of their Paso Doble, Torvill wore a practice outfit much like her competitive costume, to become accustomed to the billowing fabric and the difficulties of doing handholds with it. However, in a public rink, Torvill doffed the prototype and wore a traditional skating dress to create an element of surprise at competition time.

It wreaked havoc on their performance. Obviously, her outstretched arms didn’t have the same effect. Nervous, Dean fiddled with the choreography until British world champion Courtney Jones (who had designed their costumes) stepped in and helped them get back to the original.

Like Torvill, Gilles has had to learn how to skate with flying fabric.  “It took a little bit of adjusting [to skate with the costume],” Gilles said. “I wear the cape every single day when I do it, so you get used to it after a while. So now it doesn’t bug me. Even when it goes over my head, it doesn’t faze me. There’s something flying around at all times.”

Gilles said they’ve played with the costume a few times, even put it around her neck “when we’re messing around. I feel more like Dracula. It’s the black cape.” Poirier jokes that they’re playing super hero.

Working with Dean was not a new experience for either of them. They have both worked with him with previous partners. “He knew both of us well enough to work with both of us together,” Poirier said.

Dean choreographed a free dance for them the first season they teamed up, helping them win the national bronze medal.  He’s also done an exhibition number for them. (Here’s guessing it wasn’t the one in which Poirier skates with shiny gold boxers.)

Gilles admitted it was fun to work with Dean, but it was an exhausting sort of fun. “He’s a perfectionist,” she said. “Because I’m the girl, I get thrown around a lot, so I would be sore. But Paul was sore, too. He works you really, really hard – which is good.”

“We need to be pushing ourselves,” Poirier said. “Now is the time, when we can really grow and push ourselves and go out of our comfort zone a bit, which is what we really need.”

Gilles and Poirier will show off their new wares at the 2014 Autumn Classic International in Barrie, Ont., in October. They have also been assigned to Skate Canada International in Kelowna, B.C., and Trophée Eric Bompard in Bordeaux, France. “We have both wine countries,” Poirier said with a grin.

Silver medal for Gilles and Poirier at ISU Four Continents

TAIPEI – Ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto posted their best result this season with a silver medal on Thursday at the ISU Four Continents Championships figure skating competition.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the U.S., took the gold with 158.25 points. Gilles and Poirier, the leaders after the short dance, followed at 153.71 and Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton of the U.S., were third at 144.95.

Gilles/Poirier impressed with a stationary lift and two rotational lifts, but lost a few points on a straight line lift and the diagonal steps that garnered a level two. The Canadians got a season’s best of 91.33 points for the free dance.

“We’ve had a season’s best in both programs; that’s definitely more than we can ask for,” said Poirier. “I think today the performance was a bit tight, compared to the times we’ve done it in the past, but there were some positive things to take out of this. We’re going to take this competition with us, because it taught us a lot about resilience and about being able to come back so quickly after nationals.”

Poirier suffered a serious ankle injury last spring in training that required surgery. They were fifth and sixth on the Grand Prix circuit this season and were fourth at the Canadian championships two weeks ago to fall short for a berth on the Olympic team.

Kharis Ralph of Toronto and Asher Hill of Pickering, Ont., were fourth at 137.03 and Nicole Orford of Burnaby, B.C., and Thomas Williams of Okotoks, Alta., fifth at 133.42.

In the women’s short program, Amelie Lacoste of Delson, Que., was 10th, Veronik Mallet of Sept-Iles, Que., 11th and Alaine Chartrand of Prescott, Ont., 15th. The free skate is on Sunday.

Competition continues Saturday with the free skates in pairs and men’s competition.

Full results: http://www.isuresults.com/results/fc2014/index.htm

Gilles and Poirier grab lead at Four Continents

TAIPEI – Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Toronto are in first place after Wednesday’s short dance at the ISU Four Continents figure skating competition.

Gilles and Poirier earned a season’s best 62.38 points. Madison Hubbel and Zachary Donohue of the U.S., are second at 61.05 and their compatriots Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton stand third at 57.65.

Canada’s two other couples are also in the medal chase. Kharis Ralph of Toronto and Asher Hill of Pickering, Ont., are fourth at 53.97 and Nicole Orford of Burnaby, B.C., and Thomas Williams of Okotoks, Alta., fifth at 53.73.

In pairs after the short program, Margaret Purdy of Strathroy, Ont., and Michael Marinaro of Sarnia, Ont., are fifth and Natasha Purich of Sherwood Park, Alta., and Mervin Tran of Regina are seventh.

In men’s competition after the short program, Jeremy Ten of Vancouver is sixth, Nam Nguyen of Burnaby, B.C., 10th and Elladj Baldé of Pierrefonds, Que., 13th.

The free dance and women’s short program are on Thursday and the men’s and pairs finals on Friday.

Full results: http://www.isuresults.com/results/fc2014/index.htm

Ice Dancer Piper Gilles Receives Canadian Citizenship

OTTAWA, ON: In a citizenship ceremony today in Scarborough, Ont., ice dancer Piper Gilles became a Canadian citizen. This will allow Gilles, who skates with partner Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., to be eligible to represent Canada at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

“We are pleased that Piper’s citizenship has been approved,” said Dan Thompson, CEO, Skate Canada. “This sets up an exciting battle in ice dance at the upcoming 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships, as we have three Olympic placements for eligible teams, and this adds one more team into the very strong ice dance field competing for those spots.”

“I am very pleased to welcome Piper Gilles as one of our newest Canadian citizens,” said Canada’s Citizenship and Immigration Minister Chris Alexander. “As a new citizen, Piper will have the opportunity to represent Canada at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, alongside her partner, Paul Poirier. On behalf of all Canadians, I welcome Piper to Canada and wish her and Paul the best of luck.”

“I have felt like a Canadian citizen for some time and I am extremely excited that it is now official,” said Gilles. “I’ve dreamed about competing in the Olympics my whole life and hope to be in Sochi next year. There is no bigger stage than the Olympics and it would be an honour to represent Canada in front of the entire world.”

Born in Illinois, Gilles moved to Canada in 2011 to train with her Canadian partner, Paul Poirier. Her mother, Bonnie Gilles, is a dual citizen of Canada and the United States.

Gilles and Poirier were silver medalists at the 2013 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships. The 2014 championships will take place in Ottawa from January 9-15 and will feature approximately 250 of Canada’s best figure skaters in the senior, junior and novice categories.

The championships will act as the final step in the 2014 Olympic qualification process. At the conclusion of the senior events on Sunday, January 12, Skate Canada will nominate the 17 member Olympic figure skating team to the Canadian Olympic Committee (COC) for selection to represent Canada at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia.

Tickets for the 2014 Canadian Tire National Skating Championships are available online at www.capitaltickets.ca, by phone at 1.877.788.FANS (3267) or 613.599.FANS (3267), or in person at the Canadian Tire Centre box office.

 

Gilles and Poirier building their strength on the ice

One thing is perfectly clear: ice dancing is a dangerous, taxing sport.

The statement may have seemed absurd at one time, but no more, not with a judging system that asks so much of the ballroom breed. In the span of a few short years, Tessa Virtue has suffered from chronic Eexertional compartment syndrome in her legs; Kaitlyn Weaver broke a bone near an ankle joint while colliding at a high rate of speed into the boards during training last season, and now yet another Canadian ice dancing team has hit an untimely snag.

About four months ago, Paul Poirier was training a twizzle sequence with partner Piper Gilles when he “caught a little bit of air” and landed on his right foot – sideways.

That fleeting miscue had long-term aftershocks. Poirier suffered a fracture dislocation in his right ankle, requiring the ubiquitous Torontonian, Dr. Bob Brock, to insert four plates and 15 screws into the skater’s limb. Dr. Johnny Lau performed surgery on Weaver last season.

Ask Poirier nicely, and he’ll show you the x-ray on his smart phone, complete with a series of little bar-like structures wending their way up his bone, and then an alarmingly big screw at the ankle, anchoring it all. Poirier expects that only one of those screws will come out in future. Unless those screws pester him while he skates, they will be with him for life, a reminder of the perils of ice dancing. For now, he has a long, nasty scar that runs from his ankle to below his right knee.

“So far it’s been really good,” Poirier said, with not a shred of negativity or with a “woe is me” mien. “My body has reacted to it as well as possible.”

It’s not exactly optimum to have to overcome such a serious injury during Olympic season, when skaters usually want to push themselves as much as they can. “I think the hardest thing has been not doing too much,” Poirier said. “It’s more beneficial to do a little bit less now. What’s important for us is nationals.”

Their two Grand Prix events are, fortunately for them, late in the series: Cup of Russia and NHK Trophy.

Poirier says he’s been healing on a best-case scenario pace – ahead of schedule. Two weeks after surgery, he was back at the gym. “I’m not worried about my strength or my cardio in any sort of way,” he said. “My skills are pretty good for the most part.” They can’t do two-hour long sessions. They must train efficiently, and make the most of their time on ice. But they’ve come a long way. When Poirier first went back onto the ice, he could skate for only five minutes at a time.

“Every day, my ankle is getting stronger,” he said. “I can feel it.”

Piper has had to learn to skate without Poirier and keep a positive outlook. “So many emotions went through my mind when it first happened,” she said. “But we just have to look at it in a positive way, more than a negative way. The more negative it is, the more you just drown yourself and you don’t want to come into the rink.”

With Poirier off the ice, Gilles worked on lots of Finnstep patterns, lots of footwork, lots of twizzles.

Poirier wore a cast from his ankle to just below his knee for six weeks, and as soon as he got out of it, the twosome started to go through their programs off the ice, on the floor, every day.

“Because we couldn’t worry about the skating and we weren’t doing lifts and things like that, it really gave us a lot of time to work on character development, on the details and the expressions,” Poirier said. “We normally work on those things, but for a while, it was all we could do.”

Fortunately, they had choreographed their free dance in April, before the injury. “We were able to skate the program before the accident, so we were able to keep visualizing it in our head.”

And what visualization! They are skating to the soundtrack from the movie Hitchcock and the Making of Psycho, a 2012 comedy-drama that traces the relationship that Hitchcock had with his wife and the lead actress of Psycho.

Strangely enough, Gilles and Poirier had pictured themselves skating to something dramatic this year, something they hadn’t done before, something meant to show a different side of themselves. (Mary Poppins was the vehicle last year.) They kept on stumbling over scores written by Danny Elfman. When coach

Carol Lane returned from the junior world championships last season, she told them she had seen the movie on the plane, and urged her pupils to listen to the soundtrack. Strangely enough, they found it was written by Elfman.

“It was so weird,” Gilles said. The program came together very quickly, unlike their free skate last year.

Their short dance was choreographed after the accident. Poirier watched it come together from the bleachers. “It was really quite a big group effort to get the program together and once he was able to do off-ice, he learned it on the floor,” Gilles said.

For their short dance, they use music from Caro Emerald, a Dutch jazz singer whose music has hit the top of the charts in the United Kingdom. The program is very “ballroomy,” Poirier says.

The style, said Gilles, suits their outgoing, bubbly personalities. It’s difficult, too. Most of it is done in closed dance hold, which is tricky to do, especially if you dance close together and quickly.

Because of the injury, they’ve had to work backwards this season: mastering the character, and then the technique. Perhaps they will find that it’s the way to go in the future. “We might find that this process works better for us,” Poirier said. “It’s really going to be a year of discovery. I think we’re going to come out of this stronger.”

Beverley Smith