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(Paul Chiasson)
(Paul Chiasson)

Canadian ice dancing champions end partnership Add to ...

With the Sochi Olympics three years away, some of Canada's top figure skaters have taken their final bow.

Canadian ice dancing champions Vanessa Crone of Aurora, Ont., and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., ended their partnership after finishing 10th at the world figure skating championships in Moscow in April.

The breakup of the team, which had been together for 10 years, took many in the sport by surprise.

The athletic, fearless, technically dazzling team was expected to be a force at the Sochi Games, but Crone will follow a different path, and will take some part-time university courses this fall.

Poirier will search for a new partner, but it won't be easy to find one at his level. Still, he will also enter his second year at the University of Toronto this fall, where he will study linguistics.

Skate Canada consultant Louis Stong said Crone and Poirier were most like the legendary 1984 Olympic dance champions Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean than any others. "They were powerful, well matched to the nth degree, they had incredible depth of edge and they always came out with a lot of innovative, difficulty that was very much like Torvill and Dean," he said.

If they had an Achilles heel, it was that Crone and Poirier had a lack of interaction between them when they performed - but Stong said that was also a trait of Torvill and Dean. "So in order to win, to beat other people, [Crone and Poirier]had to be that much better on the technical side," Stong said. "Their skating skills were superb. They had terrific speed. They always skated close together."

Stone said that the thing he enjoyed most about Crone and Poirier was that you never knew what they were going to come out with next in their routines. It was always a surprise, well executed and a cut above.

For example. Crone and Poirier were the first to do a spin-lift. In that move, Poirier sat low in a sit spin, and then lifted Crone, an astonishing and novel feat.

"And then to top it all off, Dean choreographed their free dance this year," Stong said.

"And they were probably the only ones in the world who could do a program like that choreographed by him."

Crone and Poirier were on a sharp upper curve over the past year, winning the bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final, as well as the Skate Canada Grand Prix, while also taking a silver medal at Skate America.

With the absence of Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from the Canadian championships because of injury, Crone and Poirier won the national title. And they always had a way of just eking past archrivals Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont. by fractions of a point.

However, at the world championships, Weaver and Poje out-danced them and finished fifth, helping to earn three spots for Canadian dancers at the next world championships in Nice, France.

However, Crone and Poirier will not be one of them.

"Going to the Olympics last year and being on the world team were part of our goals as skaters, and this year, winning the Canadian ice dance title was a very special moment," Crone said.

Joey Russell, of Labrador City, Nfld., who became the first Newfoundland skater to compete at the world championships this season, has also retired from competitive skating to "move forward with other endeavours," he said in a public letter posted on the Skate Canada website.

Whenever Russell skated, he skated for the whole province.

"To go home and hear the kindest, sweetest words, in an accent I so dearly missed, was the ultimate prize," he said in the letter. "It was my goal to make each Newfoundlander and Labradorean proud of figure skating in this province. Please pass on your overwhelming support to the future stars of our province so that they may feel the pride as I do."

Russell, known for his refinement, polish, and exquisite line, said, as a Newfoundlander, he was not always certain of his ability as a skater.

"I worked hard, but found trouble believing that someone from Newfoundland and Labrador was talented enough to achieve greatness in the sport," he said. "I am from Newfoundland and Labrador through and through and I am so proud of that, but I had to change my mindset to that of national and world-level skater. Know that anything is possible in this sport of upsets, surprises and excitement."

Russell earned his way to the world championships with one of the best performances of his career at the Canadian championships in Victoria last January, finishing third. And he achieved a milestone, landing a jump that was always his nemesis, the triple Axel, during the short program at the world championships.

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