Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje

Twirling to the Top of Their Game

Susan D. Russell

© Reproduced from the August 2014 issue of IFS

The torch is theirs for the taking, and there is no mistaking the opportunity that lies before them. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje say they up for the challenge.

Knowing that they are following in the footsteps of ice dance legends Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, both are eminently aware of just how large the skates are that they hope to fill.

“I hate to assume anything, but the torch was kind of already passed in a way at Worlds, and that happened so quickly that we really didn’t have a chance to think about it,” Weaver said. “But I think we’re ready to take that on now. This is going to be our time.”

Before the 2014 Worlds, Weaver and Poje’s best finish at the global event was fourth in 2012. Last season, they were also coming off a seventh place ranking at the Olympic Winter Games.

There was little to suggest what would transpire in Japan, but in the end it was a close finish, with Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca LaNotte claiming the World crown by a scant 0.02 points over Weaver and Poje.

“Canadian ice dance has been on the podium for the past nine years at Worlds,” said Weaver, 25. “To think that we helped to continue that is amazing.”

Weeks later, Weaver and Poje were still looking back at what transpired at Worlds with amazement … not only winning the silver medal but at the competition itself, which produced the closest podium finish since the International Skating Union instituted the current scoring system.

“We’re not strangers to small margins. We missed the 2010 Olympics by 0.3, and we thought it couldn’t get much smaller than that — until we got 0.02,” Weaver said. “It was so, so, so close, so we’re very happy with where we are.”

“You do think, ‘I wish I could have pointed my toe here or pointed my toe there,’” Poje said. But the duo is savoring what they have even though they so far have had little time to appreciate the achievement.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in because we just kept on going, and we haven’t had that downtime to really settle in and reflect on the whole season,” said Poje, 27.

The duo recalled the medal ceremony in Saitama, at which ISU President Ottavio Cinquanta presented them with the wrong medals when he was handed them by mistake.

“We put the bronze medals on, and I remember thinking, “Are my eyes weird; is the lighting in here weird?’ Then, I turned it over and it read ‘third,’” Weaver said. “I was thinking to myself, ‘I’m not going to take it off because I don’t want to do what Surya Bonaly did in 1994.’

“Mr. Cinquanta saw me looking at it, and when he took a closer look, he said, ‘Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah; we’re switching.’ And then I thought, ‘Oh my goodness; I feel so bad.’ Meanwhile, Anna and Luca are having a fit laughing on the podium. In the end, it is a funny story, but I was so embarrassed at the time.”

Weaver and Poje credit their success in Saitama to the events of a year earlier when Weaver suffered a broken fibula less than a month before the 2013 Canadian Championships.

At that time, the idea of making it to Worlds that season seemed almost impossible. But seven weeks later, Weaver and Poje were on the ice competing at the global event in London, Ont. It was a mix of tears and joy, and the fifth-place finish there was almost incidental to the journey.

“I’d say 2013 helped a lot for 2014 because it forced us to see what we had every day in training,” said Poje. “Sometimes, we took advantage of that situation and really didn’t make the most of every moment. When Kaitlyn had her accident, it made us realize what we had. The determination that she showed to come back and then for us to rise up the way we did at the World Championships … we realized that we could do anything after what we achieved there.”

Weaver looks back at the pain and anguish she endured and, somewhat amazingly, does not regret any of it for a second. “Every cloud has a silver lining, and that experience was probably the best thing that could have happened to us, even in the year before the Olympics,” she said.

“Someone came up to me a couple of months ago and said, ‘Oh man, I’ll bet you’d like to forget last year.’ It’s the absolute contrary. That was such an incredible learning experience. Yeah, for a day, I was depressed thinking our year was over and it was going to damage our whatever.

“It brought us closer together and made us savor each moment. We realized what is possible when we really set our minds to something. So, we applied that mentality to all of last season, and I think we came out a different team.”

Heading into the Winter Games, Weaver and Poje talked optimistically about the possibility of landing on the podium in their Olympic debut, but that prospect was crushed after landing in seventh in the short dance.

What followed in the free dance didn’t move Weaver and Poje up in the final standings, but it did wonders for their psyche. “We definitely had high goals for the Olympics. To a degree, we didn’t meet those goals, but we still are proud of what we put out there, especially with our free dance,” Poje said of the routine that ranked fifth in the segment. “After the disappointing short dance, we used that as our motivation to leave everything out there and show everyone what we had to offer.”

To hear Weaver describe it, the moment was nothing short of magical. “Coming back in that free dance was something I’ll never forget,” she said. “The world melted away as we skated. There was no Olympics, no audience fixed on us and barely a judge. It was just Andrew and I, and I remember feeling like this is the place we need to be. And then we did it again at Worlds.”

It is also obvious that Weaver and Poje see the path blazed by Virtue and Moir as the ultimate inspiration that has brought them to where they stand today. “To me, Tessa and Scott are the quintessential ice dance team of our time,” Weaver said. “I’ve been fans of them since I was 13. I saw them at Junior Worlds, and being side by side with them has been an incredible learning experience.

“I don’t think Canadian ice dance would be where it is without them. They pushed the limits and, in turn, pushed everyone else to get better.”

Weaver and Poje are making no commitment to the 2018 Olympic Winter Games at this time. “Four years is a long way away,” Poje said. “It’s hard for us to say, ‘Yes, we’re in it for four more years.’

“We’re definitely into competing next season, but then we’re just going to take it year by year.”

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Originally published in August 2014