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Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier say they’re not afraid to compete with Canadian figure skating superstars Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. (CHARLES PLATIAU/REUTERS)
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier say they’re not afraid to compete with Canadian figure skating superstars Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. (CHARLES PLATIAU/REUTERS)

Ice dance pair Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier aim for 2018 Olympics Add to ...

When Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir announced their return to competition, the news likely struck a note of fear at least some of their Canadian rivals.

Not Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier.

Gilles and Poirier have been quietly working their way up the standings and believe they can hold their own against whoever they face.

“I think, on the one hand, obviously it really changes the landscape of what the Canadian competitive arena looks like, but on the other hand, it’s really actually exciting because it gives us as a country another opportunity to really be placing well on the world stage,” Poirier said.

“But in the big picture, we had a long conversation about it, and the goal for Piper and I is to be on the podium at the Olympics, and even hopefully at the top.

“And the truth of the matter is, we have to be better than everyone, no matter who that ‘everyone’ is, at a certain point.”

Gilles, from Toronto, and Poirier, from Unionville, Ont., are Canada’s only ice dance entry at this weekend’s Trophée de France, as the Grand Prix season continues. Gabrielle Daleman of Newmarket, Ont., is Canada’s other entry, in women’s singles.

Gilles, 24, and 25-year-old Poirier won bronze at Skate Canada International last month, but perhaps lost on the night was their high technical score on their free dance – higher than that of Virtue and Moir, who won gold in their first major international competition since the Sochi Olympics.

Gilles and Poirier, who skated a crowd-pleasing disco program for the short dance and a dramatic Argentine tango for the free program, said competing alongside Virtue and Moir makes them better.

“Tessa and Scott have a great energy about them too. They’re huge crowd pleasers, the crowd loves them, but so are we,” Gilles said. “The crowd was really happy and very happy for them, but we had to still do our job, but we kind of fed off that energy.”

“And we find we perform better the tougher the competition because we know we have to step up,” Poirier added.

Gilles and Poirier were left home from the Sochi Olympics heartbroken. Just a month after the American-born Gilles received her Canadian citizenship to compete for Canada, the duo finished fourth at the national championships and narrowly missed a spot on the team.

“It was definitely disappointing, but it really made us who we are right now,” Gilles said. “We didn’t want that big upset to change our goals in the future, and I think that made us stronger, more comfortable with each other, because we really had to lean on each other. So I think it made all of us closer and better as athletes, and more well-rounded.”

Competition for an ice dance spot on the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic team will be similarly fierce. Sochi Olympians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, and Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam will be among the teams battling for spots.

Gilles and Poirier laughed when asked how much better they are than a couple of seasons ago. Answer: light years.

“And part of that has been just the matter of time, part of it has been us just being able to spend more time skating together, being more intimate with each other, which translates to a deeper connection both artistically and also just with the unison and skating and working together physically,” Poirier said.

“And this entire quadrennial, we’ve really changed our approach, we’ve really been able to pick material that stretches us, we’ve been really intentional about choosing programs that might not necessarily be the easiest or most natural thing for us, but programs that force us to work on weaknesses in our skating.

“The fruit of that is really starting to show this season.”

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