Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier, looking for their first senior title at the Canadian figure skating championships, have a fight on their hands.
The two-time Canadian silver medalists are in the lead after the short dance Friday with 65.80 points, but archrivals Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are only .16 points behind them.
The two are battling for the championship after the withdrawal of Olympic ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who weren't quite ready to compete after Virtue underwent surgery last fall. The free dance is Sunday.
"We were definitely expecting to be close to Kaitlyn and Andrew," Poirier said afterward. "They're great competitors. They have been skating strongly all season."
"It's nothing that we haven't seen before," Weaver said, thinking of the .30 points that separated them from Crone and Poirer in the final count at the Canadian championships last year. Weaver and Poje lost a spot on the Olympic team by that narrow margin.
But this year, they aren't holding back. Long-limbed and elegant, Weaver and Poje came out dressed in simple black attire, and left the crowd spellbound while skating to At Last and Cheek to Cheek.
Crone and Poirier, on the other hand, dazzled the judges with their precise footwork, their upper body movement and especially by the difficult twizzles that they do at the end of their routine.
In ice dancing, the twizzle is the equivalent of a triple Axel. A momentary lack of focus on the travelling turns can spell disaster. Crone and Poirier, always the ultimate technicians, wanted the challenge.
Crone said they felt very relaxed - a goal, to feel comfortable, as she put it "in our own shoes - or skates."
"We couldn't be more proud of ourselves," she said. Crone and Poirier won the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final in Beijing, while Weaver and Poje finished fifth of six.
Poje, a commanding 6-foot-3 on the ice (Poirier is 5-foot-9), said their goal this year was to perform a program and to leave nothing in the tank.
"We don't feel like we need to save anything and that's what we learned last year for sure," Weaver said. "I'm looking forward to Sunday [the free dance] "We've worked so hard on our free dance. We just want to give it all we've got and let the chips fall where they may."
In third place are Canada's junior champions from last year, Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam of Barrie, Ont., who aren't far behind with 61.57 points, ahead of Kharis Ralph of Toronto and Asher Hill of Pickering, Ont., the 2008 Canadian junior champions.