Kaetlyn Weaver says she believes in miracles.
Last year, she and her partner, Andrew Poje, thought it a miracle that they were able to skate at all at the world championships in London, Ont., after she broke her left fibula in a training accident. She defied all doctor’s prognosis to get there and finish fifth, with screws in her ankle pushing against her boot with each stroke.
Another miracle: only a year later, she and Poje stood on the podium, wearing world silver medals (at least when ISU president Ottavio Cinquanta figured out which were the right ones to sling around their necks; He had originally given Weaver the bronze medal, before realizing it was the wrong colour.)
Perhaps the confusion was understandable. All three medal winners were separated by only fractions of a point. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte were overcome at winning the gold after being sixth at the Olympic Games, seemingly the afterthought on judges’ cards. In Japan, they defeated Weaver and Poje by only .02 points. Weaver and Poje (seventh at the Olympics) defeated bronze medalists Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (fourth at the Olympics) by only .04 points. Only .06 points separated all of those six people standing on the world podium.
It’s not new for Weaver and Poje to lose close decisions. The Canadian team that skates on emotion lost the chance to get to the Vancouver Olympics by only .30 points in 2010. The following year, they lost the Canadian title by 1.03 points.
Since then, sailing their ship with undeniable purpose, Weaver and Poje have fought their way to the top of the world, and are now the ones who will be medal threats at every event they contest.
It was the wackiest and most wonderful of ice dancing events. Nobody could count on anything. Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov seemed the heirs to the world throne, after finishing third at the Olympics behind the top two pillars of the sport, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who bypassed this event. A missed twizzle dropped the Russians to fifth after the short dance. But they won the free dance, missing the podium by .99 points.
Everything was a scramble. With the Russians first in the free dance after nailing their stunning Black Swan routine, Pechalat and Bourzat of France were second, Weaver and Poje third, Cappellini and Lanotte fourth, Madison Chock and Evan Bates fifth.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who failed to make it to the Sochi Olympics, barrelled into the picture with a seventh place finish in the free, to finish eighth overall. With Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam finishing tenth overall, Canada had three dance teams in the top 10 – without the presence of Virtue and Moir to aid them.
“We had the time of our lives,” Weaver said afterward. “It was pretty emotional to see the margin when we looked up, – it was .02 – but it was also very close behind us. So we knew that it was going to come down to every detail, and we are so grateful to be able to share the podium with these two amazing [teams] so we are very happy where we are.”
They had never been even a small medalist heading into the free dance before. It was a new experience. It didn’t sink in. “It was shocking and strange to see our names that high, but it was a quick turnover and we immediately focused our attention onto the free dance,” Weaver said.
If they couldn’t believe where they found themselves, it was written on the faces of the Italian skaters that their victory was well beyond expectation. “We are happy, but we are mostly shocked because we had work so much to block out the pressure after being first after the short,” Cappellini said.
She says she’s still shocked. “I can’t really feel the happiness yet,” she said. While standing on the podium, both she and Lanotte belted out the words of their national anthem at the top of their lungs, delirious about what had just happened. (Don’t you just love Italians?)
“There is no limit in improving, but I guess we are the best version of Anna and Luca that we can be,” Lanotte said. “We will see what we can still improve and what the future will bring.”
Before Pechalat and Bourzat went onto the ice, coach Igor Shpilband told them to skate from the heart. They finally managed to get emotional later. Pechalat has no desire to continue. “I don’t want to wake up any more thinking about ice skating,” she said, sounding very sane, like the 30-year-old that she is. “We will try to enjoy life and why not later be a judge or technical specialist or something like that to keep a foot in the skating world, but not every day. Too much for me.” Bourzat was so enthused about having worked with Shpilband over the past year, that he plans to work with him next year. “I have learned a lot from them as skaters, and I have to learn a lot from them as a coach,” he said.
“I’m staying in Detroit, far away from her,” he said, looking at Pechalat, and laughing.
Of course the question for Ilinykh and Katsalapov is about their future plans, considering all the rumours circulating about their breakup. They were non-committal. “First of all, we need to relax a little because we are so tired,” Ilinykh said. “We need to have a couple of weeks of vacation and afterwards, talk with the coach. It was really hard until the world championships, after all.”
The Russians didn’t win the free with the highest technical points: that fell to Pechalat and Bourzat, who edged them on this mark by .15, with Weaver and Poje another .85 behind. The Russians did win the program component mark with 56.80 points, compared to Cappellini and Lanotte, second in this segment (fractionally) by 1.64 points. Weaver and Poje were rated third best at 55.15,
Ilinykh and Katsalapov even got a smattering of 10.00s, one for choreography, three for interpretation and timing. Actually, the judge that gave them the 10.00 for choreography rated them like Olympic champions, giving them no mark lower than 9.75.
Who was on the judges’ panel? The referee was the fine and honorable Robert Horen from the United States. The strong technical panel was tough on the Russians, giving them level threes for three elements in the free.
Judges for the short dance were from Canada, Russia, Poland, Israel, France, Italy, Germany, Ukraine, and Hungary. For the free dance, the judges from Canada, France, Italy and Ukraine were dropped and added were officials from Britain, the Slovak Republic, the Czech Republic and Belarus. Both panels included a Russian judge. Just saying.
As for Weaver and Poje, they have learned a lot from this experience. Look out world. “We have learned that it doesn’t pay to hold back,” Weaver said. (When have they ever done that?) “I think it’s just opening a new door for our future,” she said.
It seems like the fun is just beginning.