The demise of the partnership of Canada’s top ice dance team of Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier took everyone by surprise.
Though many in the skating fraternity were of the opinion that Crone was not as good as her partner, her excellent physical condition made up for her lack of elegance.
The duo had enjoyed a successful career on the national and international stages, despite their youth.
Crone, 20, and Poirier, 19, represented their country at the 2010 Winter Olympics, placed seventh at the subsequent Worlds, claimed bronze at the 2010 Grand Prix Final and were golden at the 2011 Canadian Championships.
But the team’s tenth place finish at Worlds this year seemed like a bit of a setback. “The split had nothing to do with the result at Worlds,” Poirier said. “We just did not have the same goals and we were not headed in the same direction any more. I wanted a change.”
Neither he nor coach Carol Lane would elaborate on what exactly had gone wrong with the partnership.
Poirier immediately moved on. He had try-outs with several young Canadian ice dancers and tested the waters with America’s Emily Samuelson, who found herself adrift after her former dance partner Evan Bates called an end to their partnership.
But after trying out with Gilles. Poirier said he knew that she was the person he wanted to dance with.
“We have known Piper for a long time, because she had often competed in the same events as my couples,” Lane said. “She is the right height, has the right physical attributes and an outgoing personality. Her skills and physical appearance work well. Both are only 19 years old, so we said why not, let’s give it a try.”
Gilles skated with Timothy McKernan for five years and then partnered with Zach Donohue at the junior level for two years. Her last competition was the 2010 Junior Worlds in The Hague where she and Donohue skated into ninth.
“After Zach and I split I moved from my hometown of Colorado Springs to Los Angeles,” Gilles said. “I was coaching a little and thinking about quitting the sport. But more and more I realized how much I missed competition.
"I was moving back to Colorado Springs when I heard from my former coach, Patti Gottwein that Paul had spilt from Vanessa. I contacted him right away and we arranged a try-out.”
Poirier is excited about the new partnership. “We will skate for Canada. This arrangement was the best one for us,” he said. “Because Piper has not competed for a year she has already finished the first year of the two year waiting period, as per the ISU rules.”
Gilles added: “The U.S. will release me in one year. We have already spoken to the federation about this.”
Poirier and Gilles already have a plan in place. “In late August, when Carol goes to a Junior Grand Prix event and then to an ISU ice dance seminar with other teams, Piper and I plan to go to Colorado Springs to work on choreography with Christopher Dean,” Poirier explained.
“He is there all summer because his sons live there. I know him from last season and I adore his choreography.
“Piper and I first have to discuss which kind of music we both like and then present some proposals to Christopher.”
The duo has their sights set on the 2012 Canadian Nationals. “We want to show everybody that we are good enough for international competitions next season,” Gilles said.
“It is good that they don’t have to hurry. They can take their time to grow together,” Lane added.
Poirier intends to continue his University studies in linguistics. “Most classes are in the afternoon or evening, so we can train all morning as before,” he said.
Gilles, understandably, has no firm educational plan in place. “This all came too quickly and I think I missed the deadline for the first university semester,” she said. “And I still need to find a residence. But everything is comfortable. I felt that right away.”
The duo is working on a number for a small show in early August. Gilles laughed the entire time as they worked on the routine together at their Richmond Hill training base.
“I always want to choreograph something new, but when you try and then it does not work, you try something else,” she said. “That is great fun.”