Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier aren’t on autopilot yet. That will be their next step on the Olympic journey.
The ice dancing duo won their third national title on Saturday, testing out their “Long and Winding Road” free dance for judges and virtuals. (They would have won a fourth, had the event not been cancelled last year.)
They made a flurry of changes to their routines in the days following the Grand Prix season, and the event in Ottawa was a chance to see how they all worked under pressure. The verdict is this: They worked, enough to warrant marks of 132.26 for their free dance and 219.24 overall.
The gold medalists finished 12.59 points ahead of Laurence Fournier-Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen, who ambitiously bundled together a new routine three weeks ago and miraculously delivered it Saturday to great effect. Bundles of GOE marks tumbled after every move, for both of them. Both broke the 200 barrier. The silver medalists earned 206.65.
Taking the bronze medals were youngsters Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha, skating to “Rio” as if their lives depended on it, always fast, always detailed. Lajoie and Lagha earned 192.67.
Canada has three Olympic dance spots and it would be a shock if none of the three above got one of them. Not only are Gilles and Poirier planning their next steps, but they know they will probably be part of the team event, an added consideration.
“First and foremost, we have to take a few days off to rest,” Poirier said. “This is really our last chance to get some rest before the Olympics. The Olympics are going to be a particularly hard event for us, hopefully, with teams and individual. That’s a lot of competitions back to back and we’re not quite used to all that, so we really want to make sure we are managing our energy well.”
After the resting comes the drilling the routines They’ll do a lot of repetitions, so they won’t have to do what they did in Ottawa: “Feet, remember to do this, remember to do that. Do this,” Gilles said.
“Piper said there are a lot of bits that aren’t quite on autopilot and we’re still thinking through them,” Poirier said. They want to make sure everything is sharp and clean.
“I don’t think there is a magic formula,” he said. “I think it is a matter of now the vehicles are right and it’s just a matter of doing them so that we can perform them at their best in the setting where it’s most important.”
The programs they laid out Friday and Saturday, so successfully, will give them a lot of confidence for the Olympic test, Poirier said. They didn’t have the skate of their lives in either of them in Ottawa, but that wasn’t the goal. They feel confident in the adjustments they’ve made to both programs. They feel settled. They don’t need to fiddle any more.
At the last Olympics four years ago, they changed their program before it and did not have a strong performance at nationals. “Our programs were so fresh,” Poitier said. “This is a position we’ve been in before. I don’t think it should worry us.” They still have a month left to buff up the beasts.
Speaking of redoing programs just before an Olympics, Fournier-Beaudry and Sorensen have done just that. They didn’t just tinker and fiddle. They decided to scrap their heavy “Return to the Inner Temple,” free dance and change everything up. They opted to do “Gladiator” instead.
They’ve had a busy three weeks.
“Our other program meant a lot to us when it was made back in 2020,” Sorensen said. They conjured up that concept at the beginning of the pandemic, when they were both off the ice.
“But feeling changed and what we thought we needed changed during the season,” he said. They had been playing with the idea of Gladiator, and then just made a decision to do it.
“It’s the music that really catches us,” Fournier-Beaudry said. “When I started skating, it was the soundtrack that I kept listening to over and over again. I wanted to skate to this music.”
Sorensen figures it’s from a movie that young guys tend to watch, captivated by the story and the cinematography and all the rest. But apparently, Fournier-Beaudry would dance hither and fro with the Gladiator soundtrack “blasting” in the basement. (According to her mother.)
“It’s kind of funny,” Sorensen said. “It kind of all made sense. It’s an energy and a music that just carries us through this long program and when it’s natural, you just know and we knew straightaway when we played it on the ice.” It came together easily.
Maybe not necessarily for Fournier-Beaudry, who cuts all of their music. She called it “a great challenge.”
They wanted to keep their free dance elements, so the skater cut the music to fit. “It was: How can you build that music in order to support the material?” she said.
Sorensen thinks Fournier-Beaudry is too humble. “She’s always cutting our music and she’s always figuring out the placement of elements,” he said. “We have an ongoing talk at the beginning of every season about what we want to do and how to build program with music.
“Then we bring it to our choreographer and we work together.
Fournier-Beaudry has been working on music arranging for quite a while, he said. “It doesn’t come easy and making big changes like that at the last minute, you have to be smart about it,” Sorensen said.
Fournier-Beaudry has made all the cuts. She knows the soundtrack inside and out. She knows exactly what sort of music fits the elements. It saves them from changing 100 per cent of their free dance. They loved their elements and they had been working well.
So they have unleashed it and won a silver medal with it at only their second Canadian championships. They formerly skated for Denmark – they competed at world and European championships – but when Denmark would not give Fournier-Beaudry Canadian citizenship before the 2018 Games, they decided to skate for Canada. Fournier-Beaudry is from Canada.
Denmark released them in March of 2018. Sorensen passed the written test to become a Canadian citizen last June, and now has a Canadian passport.
Since then, they have missed two Canadian championships, first because Sorensen had to undergo knee surgery and secondly, from the cancellation last year over COVID. But it looks as if their dream to get to the Olympics may finally become real.
“We’re very excited about this,” Sorensen said. “This was sort of the plan all along for us to realize our Olympic journey together and make it to the Olympics together.
“We are so happy to be back. And so excited that this opportunity has been reached,” he said.
Fournier-Beaudry said they can build on their work now. They have a second wind to push them through the rest of the season.