After a year of frustration, stress and injury, ice dancers Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier finally have a clear path.
They intend to let their talents shine at Skate America in Portland, Ore., starting with the short dance on Saturday.
It will be their second and final stop on the Grand Prix circuit this season. With a win in their pockets at Skate Canada, a good finish in Oregon could qualify them for the Grand Prix final in Beijing in December.
They made it to the final last year, placing sixth of six teams, but only after a nightmarish season.
Even before the 2009 world championships in Los Angeles, Crone developed a case of shingles, and had it treated just in time before antiviral medications became ineffective. As it was, it knocked her immune system to pieces.
"She had a huge lump in her groin and the poor girl looked terrible," coach and choreographer Carol Lane said. "And she was in pain."
Then during the summer, while the young team was attempting a new lift, she hurt her knee. They had to change the lift.
Then Crone hurt her back during a wicked fall. When Poirier's blades got caught in the ice, he failed to catch her, and Crone went flying across the ice on her back. That meant they couldn't train properly for the Grand Prix season, and weren't really ready for Cup of Russia in October.
Troubles ensued during the Grand Prix season. Crone's skates didn't arrive, at first, at the Cup of Russia, then Poirier caught food poisoning. "How he did that free dance, I'll never know," Lane said. She watched them from home on the Internet, and after she heard commentators trashing them, she threw up.
The Canadian championships, which served as the qualifying event for the Olympics, left them emotionally bankrupt, too. There were just two berths for ice dancers at the Olympics and Crone and Poirier were in a hard-fought battle for the second spot with Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. Crone and Poirier defeated them by just 0.30 points, and got the berth, but by the time they arrived in Vancouver, they had no gas left in the tank. They were exhausted.
At the Olympics, Crone of Aurora, Ont., and Poirier of Unionville, Ont., skated fine in the free dance, but not optimally, and they finished in 14th place, a huge disappointment for the camp.
"We were furious," said Lane, whose coaching partner is Juris Razguliaevs, a former Latvian ice dancer and a world junior champion. "Just frustrated for the kids. They were better than those results, but they didn't give it to them."
There's no point blaming anyone else, Lane said, and it all boiled down to one thing: They didn't do the job as well as they could have.
In the weeks before the world championships in Turin last March, Lane cracked the whip. "I put them on a wicked on-ice regimen after that," she said. "They just worked their tails off. I rode them really hard. I was positively mean. They hated me for doing it.
"But I said: 'That's never going to happen to you again, while it's in our control.' And they busted their buns until the worlds."
The result? They placed seventh, leapfrogging several teams that had defeated them at the Olympics.
This season there is nothing to hold them back. No injuries. No illness.
"We learned a lot," Lane said. "You learn more from your failings than your successes, don't you?"