It’s been a long hard winter here in Canada. Howling winds. Towering snowbanks that won’t melt. Boots springing leaks. Snow shovels falling apart. An alarming shortage of snow melter and/or salt. Friendly neighbours that I can no longer find behind the dirty snow. Rumpled fenders. Rising gas bills. Cripes.
Thank god for Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.
Day by day, as I worked the shovels, again and again and again, two pieces of music would always come to mind, and it’s because of Canada’s new No. 1 ice dancing team (Weaver and Poje) who will compete next week at the world figure skating championships in Saitama, Japan. I didn’t seek this out. I didn’t consciously remember them, but during the winter’s darkest days, I started humming: “42nd Street” (short dance of Weaver and Poje) and “Maria de Buenos Aires” (free dance of same said couple) as I literally moved mountains.
Aside from being great music to shovel snow by (energizing), it’s just darned unforgettable and Weaver and Poje, being remarkably emotional and dynamic skaters, have made it so.
Seventh at the Olympics, Weaver and Poje are working for more in Japan. “I think that worlds has a lot of opportunities with the withdrawals of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Meryl Davis and Charlie White,” Weaver said the other day. “It leaves two spots open that weren’t there before. So that leaves a lot of room for us.”
And there is room. They don’t feel that they’ve performed their routines to the utmost yet, although what they did at Skate Canada last October was pretty good: their free dance got a score of 104.88, third highest in the world during the season as well as the third highest total score (177.22) before the Olympic contest.
At the Olympics, they got 65.93 for their short dance, well behind their Skate Canada score of 70.35. It wasn’t what they’d hoped and the mark landed them in seventh place. “I think that we left points on the table,” Weaver said.
Their first target, when they returned from Sochi, was the technical mark of the short dance. Weaver feels they lost about five points, and had they set themselves up well after the short dance, who knows what could have happened in the long? Weaver and Poje lost points on twizzles (level three), the first Finnstep pattern (level two) and their midline not-touching footwork sequence (level three.) And they had an extended lift.
Clean that up and the sky’s the limit.
They were fifth in the free dance.
“The worlds is really an opportunity to close up this season and really celebrate all the strides that we’ve made this year, which was huge for us, and give these programs one last shot and enjoy them,” she said.
Weaver and Poje returned from Sochi, exhausted, like everyone else. “It definitely took a bit of regrouping,” Weaver said. “We were pretty mentally and physically drained coming back from the Olympics, as we should be. I would feel like we missed something if we came back still with energy.
“I think we lived our Olympics to the fullest. And we were able to experience so many different aspects of the Games, so when we came back, we had to let ourselves come down and let ourselves rest and mentally give ourselves a chance to process.”
The Sochi Games gave them memories they will always cherish, Poje said. “We waited for that for the past four years….To be there on that stage was amazing.”
While they were recovering, they took their message about the inclusiveness of sport, via the Right to Play organizations back to Poje’s home school in the Kitchener-Waterloo area: Bluevale Collegiate Institute. “Just to see the excitement on their faces made us realized how special the moment was,” he said.
The Texas-born Weaver was skating at an Olympics for the first time as a Canadian; you could see how seriously she took that while cheering wildly for the Canadian women’s hockey team – archrivals of the Americans. “I felt more pride than I ever felt before,” she said. “It was my ultimate goal and dream and to be nominated on behalf of Canada to walk in those opening ceremonies, wearing Canada on my back, was the most incredible experience that I could ever have asked for.”
In fact, it was “bigger and better and more wonderful” than she had imagined, she said. “Canada for me is home.”
Now, after skating in the shadows of Virtue and Moir, Weaver and Poje will compete for the first time as the top Canadian team. Weaver said she finds it a bit of a shock. “Everyone knows there would be a day when Tessa and Scott and Meryl and Charlie weren’t going to grace the competitive ranks,” She said. “But now that it’s here, it’s like wait: what are we going to do now? It’s a little strange not to have them there.”
But they are ready. It’s time to step up. In Saitama, “it’s going to be a free-for-all,” Weaver said. “Everyone is in this predicament where anything can happen. That’s a thrilling place to be.”
“We’ve hopefully proven throughout other competitions as well that we deserve to be at the top,” Poje said. It’s time to seize opportunities.
And another surprise: Weaver said they are committed to competing only next season “but we are not sure how long that will last,” she said. They will make year-to-year decisions after that. Pity. I need some more good music and fiery programs to survive these winters. I hope six-foot snowbanks aren’t the new norm.