Ice dance duo digging in

STEVE BUFFERY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:25 PM ET

VICTORIA — Waterloo ice dancer Kaitlyn Weaver had some food for thought on the eve of the Canadian figure skating championships. Yes, she said, Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are not competing, but the rest of the field isn’t exactly chopped liver.

Weaver Is dead on. The ice dance competition could turn out to be the closest, most intriguing battle at these championships.

While Virtue and Moir are clearly the best ice dance team in the world, there is some amazing depth in Canada in the discipline.

“Canada is a superpower in ice dance,” said Weaver, who skates with partner Andrew Poje. “There’s three Canadians teams in the top 10 in the world right now and I don’t think any other country can boast that. Ice dancing is booming in Canada.”

Weaver and Poje are the defending Four Continents champions, but they’re not even the favoUrites here at the Canadians.

Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier, who have finished second to Virtue and Moir at the past two nationals, are expected to hold off Weaver and Poje for the title here at the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre, but the competition should be a battle royale. Both teams are rising fast and have accomplished big things on the world stage this season with Virtue and Moir out — the result of Virtue undergoing leg surgery in the fall.

Crone and Poirier, who skate out of the Scarboro Figure Skating Club, finished first and second at two Grand Prix events this season and exceeded expectations by finishing third at the Grand Prix Final.

At 20 and 19, respectively, Crone and Poirier are considered the heir apparents, if you will, to Virtue and Moir, though the Olympic champions may stick around for the 2014 Sochi Games, as well.

Crone and Poirier have had great success with their Alicia Keys short and Lennon and McCartney free dance routines this season, and credit part of their improvement with spending a week with legendary ice dancer, now choreographer, Christopher Dean last June in Toronto.

Of course, why not get a Brit when your free-dance routine is set to Eleanor Rigby, by the world’s most famous British band.

“We were so tired at the end of the day ... because we’ve never really pushed ourselves in that way,” Aurora native Crone said of their time with Dean, who won 1984 Olympic gold with Jayne Torvill. “He definitely made it possible for us to be more comfortable with our body and kind of explore our body more, and with each other even. It was definitely something we needed, something fresh and new.”

Weaver and Poje, who skate out of Bloomfield Hills, Mich., finished third at the past two Canadians, but have also made huge strides this season and could well leapfrog over Crone and Poirier to win the their first senior Canadian title. They finished behind Crone and Poirier by the slightest of margins last year and missed out at the chance to compete at the Olympics. But they’re learned from that experience and have come back stronger.

“I think what held us back (last season) was ourselves,” said Weaver, 21. “I think we were a little timid and that might have been the difference. Now we take the ice as if we own it and we don’t hold anything back and that’s allowing us to have no regrets. That’s a major lesson that we’ve learned.

“I think (missing the Olympics) helped build a fire,” added Waterloo-native Poje. “We’re here and we’re contenders,”

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

twitter@beezersun


Photos