By: Beverley Smith
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.”
Want to read more about the figure skaters who will compete at the 2014 Olympic Games in Sochi? Pick up Beverley Smith’s new book SKATING TO SOCHI! The book profiles the top 40 athletes/teams with full-colour photos! Order online: Amazon.com, Lulu.com (ebook) or iTunes (ebook).