crone-poirierArticle By Melanie Hoyt

With teams flourishing on both the senior and junior levels, Canada boasts significant depth in its dance program. At the senior level, Canadian dance teams have medaled at the past three World Figure Skating Championships and the junior teams have gone one better, medaling at every World Junior Figure Skating Championships since 2005. The latest junior team to add the medal count is Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier, who train under Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajevs in the Ice Dance Elite program at the Scarboro Figure Skating Club.

At the 2008 World Junior Championships, Crone & Poirier delivered strong performances in all three segments of the competition. Finishing only 3.57 points behind the champions, Americans Emily Samuelson & Evan Bates, Crone & Poirier won the silver medal, proving that they belong at the top of the rankings.

For Crone, the achievement of their goal was the best surprise she could have imagined.

“We’ve worked really hard over the years to get that kind of confidence,” she said. “To get what we’ve tried for, for so many years, is kind of a shock.”

“It was a gratifying experience,” Poirier agreed. “We’ve worked hard for so long. It was the ultimate goal. To finally get here, it’s an amazing feeling.”

Their season had a strong beginning–they won both of their events in the Junior Grand Prix Series–-and a thrilling ending, but that does not mean that this season passed without its challenges. Despite being the first qualifiers for the Junior Grand Prix Final, Crone & Poirier placed a somewhat disappointing fourth in their first trip to the Final, almost twelve points off the podium.

“I think when we went to the JGPF, we were more focused on what the other teams were doing instead of focusing on our own skating,” Poirier said. “I think we really learned from our mistakes there.”

With only a month between the JGPF and their senior début at the Canadian Championships, the young team had to bounce back quickly. In addition to addressing the issues of their competitive approach, they had to train their first senior compulsory dance–the Yankee Polka–and add material to their free dance to meet senior time and element requirements.

An extremely close range of scores between second and fifth resulted in Crone & Poirier finishing their first senior national championship in a respectable fourth place. However, they made a statement with their free dance that they cannot be discounted as contenders for the Canadian team for the 2010 Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver. The dance, a dramatic tango to “A Los Amigos,” was ranked second in the event and brought them within a point of the podium. After their disappointment at the JGPF, this achievement gave them the confidence and the momentum that they needed to prepare to fight back at the World Junior Championships.

“That was definitely not what we planned at the beginning of the year,” Crone said with a laugh. “Our main goal was to come top five at Nationals, so to have our free dance come second was amazing.”

Though they are young, Crone, 17, & Poirier, 16, have definite opinions about their training. The trend in dance, particularly at the lower levels, is to switch partners if success is elusive in the first few years, but this team’s seven-year partnership is going strong.

“I think since we’ve been skating together for so long, it’s really helped our partnership,” Poirier said. “It’s helped us learn how to react to each other’s moods, so we know how the other is feeling.”

A typical day for teenagers includes two dance sessions between 6:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., school, and then freestyle training in the evening. Both partners also skate singles on the national level. In fact, Poirier won the junior men’s silver medal at the 2008 Canadian Championships. While the duo is certainly focused on their dance partnership, they believe that their experiences in singles enhance their dance training, rather than detract from it.

“I think both disciplines correlate with each other,” Poirier said. “They both have different things to bring to one another. [Competing singles teaches] us to skate as individuals and not always have to rely on the other partner.”

In fact, Poirier draws inspiration from one of Canada’s greatest singles skaters—Kurt Browning. “He brought originality to the sport,” Poirier said. “[He] not only covered the technical aspect, but the show aspect as well. It’s important in ice dance to have presentation and projection to the audience.”

Despite hectic days with skating, they do find time for themselves and try to lead balanced lives. Poirier reads to relax, while Crone enjoys staying active however she can.

“I like to play sports other than skating,” she said. “Like soccer and track & field.”

Perhaps it is this fresh perspective that has encouraged them to develop the creativity and musicality that has set them apart from their competitors. Crone & Poirier were the only team in the world, on either the junior or senior level, to include a level-four stationary lift in their free dance. At the opening of the dance, Poirier picks up his partner from the ice, rotating quickly in a crouched position while she is extended parallel to the ice, holding her blade to her head. His part of the lift looks almost like a two-footed spin and the movement requires a great deal of strength and control. Crone isn’t even sure how they came up with the element.

“We wanted to do a stationary lift,” she said, taking a moment to ask her partner if he remembered how it happened. “It was kind of by accident,” she finally concluded.

Accident or not, it was a spectacular opening to their program, and it earned them +2 GOE from six of the twelve judges at the World Junior Championships.

Crone & Poirier’s creativity will only help them as they make the transition to the full-time senior dance level in the coming season, and they shrug off the idea that being a junior world medalist adds additional pressure.

“We don’t really know exactly where we’re going to fit in the field,” Crone said. “We’re just going to try to show ourselves in the senior ranks, see what we can do, and hope for the best.”

“We’ll take it one step at a time,” Poirier agreed.

After beginning their season once again at the Lake Placid Ice Dancing Championships, Crone & Poirier will skate in their first senior-level Grand Prix Series at Skate Canada and Trophée Eric Bompard. They may only be hoping for the best, but if last season was an indication of what their best is, then they can be considered favorites to challenge for the podium at next year’s Canadian Championships.