Dispatches from Beijing: Gilles & Poirier

By Lynn Rutherford | Photo by Melanie Heaney

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier compete in Beijing not only as reigning World ice dance medalists, but as Canada’s only legitimate medal threat in any of the figure skating events.

Still, the two-time Canadian champions don’t feel too much weight on their shoulders.

“I think we’re trying not to look at it as a pressure situation,” Gilles, 30, said after a recent practice at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium. “I think we’re just very excited that the Games are happening, and we are in that position.”

“We’re trusting our training, trusting all of the work we’ve put in the last four years,” Poirier, also 30, added.

In Pyeongchang, Gilles and Poirier ranked third on Canada’s depth chart, behind the great Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. There, they placed a solid eighth.

In the years since, under longtime coaches Carol Lane, Jon Lane, and Juris Razgulajevs, the couple has come into their own with striking, artistically daring programs like their free dances to Don McLean’s “Vincent” and Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now.” 

In Beijing, both Gilles and Poirier’s rhythm dance, set to a lively Elton John medley, and their cerebral free dance, choreographed by their coaches to “The Long and Winding Road,” are sure to stand out from the pack. Here’s what they have to say about their approach to their second Olympics together:

Four years ago, you were on a team including Virtue and Moir. This time around, you are the leaders. 

Piper: It’s a position we haven’t been in before, but I think it’s an exciting opportunity. We know the work we’ve put in to be here, and I think it’s just time to celebrate how far we’ve come. Being in that spot is an honor, to be considered Canada’s top figure skating couple. We’re just going to celebrate what we’ve accomplished in the last four years. We’re trying not to look at the end goal, that’s obviously in sight, but we need to focus on our programs and how we feel, but it’s an honor to be in that position. 

What’s the biggest difference between now, and your first Olympics?

Paul: I think confidence. We’ve really learned to trust in the artistic decisions we make, trust in our training and trust that we are excellent ice dancers. I think, more than anything, for so long we felt we had to prove that to everyone. The more we learned that we could take ownership of who we are and take ownership of our skating and our art and just really enjoy living in the moment of the performance, that’s when we thrive and skate our best, rather than trying to prove to people that we’re good. So, I think it’s just really a change in the mentality the last few years that has allowed us to become more successful and get where we are today.

How are you staving off pressure?

Piper: The two of us just love to skate. That’s been a nice reminder, every time we go to compete the last couple of years. We just love to skate. And I think that kind of takes a little bit of that pressure off ourselves. Just enjoy what we do, skate the program we know how to do and just enjoy it.