The long and winding road isn’t quite finished yet for world bronze medalists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier.
But this year they are celebrating it. And skating to it. Using the Beatles music to it, they won a gold medal at Skate Canada on Saturday. It’s an important gold medal: it’s their first Grand Prix event of the season. It’s their second Skate Canada gold, but this is Olympic season, when every success seems bigger. (Their gold was the only medal Canadian skaters won at Skate Canada.)
Gilles and Poirier also stepped back to an important milestone on their journey, recalling a time when they used British buskers Govardo (a two-man band) to conjure up the music for their celebrated “Vincent” routine, one that put them on the map. This season, they’ve returned to Govardo to craft a cover version of “The Long and Winding Road.” And it feels like a homey place for them. What they got is a gentle, lilting, sometimes sunshiny version that gives Gilles and Poirier a chance to wrap their bodies into beautiful shapes and think of all that was and could be. It’s a poignant hug of a program. “It’s every little piece of our journey,” said Gilles, who teamed up with Poirier in the summer of 2011. “It’s every step, every competition, every free program has led us to where we are right now.”
Where they are right now is in a rosy place, come the Beijing Winter Olympics next February. Their rhythm dance score of 85.65 is the highest score this season for that segment, even slighter higher than that of celebrated reigning Olympic silver medalists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.
Papadakis and Cizeron still hold the world record score of 90.03, but Gilles and Poirier’s Skate Canada score is the fifth highest of all time at the moment. Gilles and Poirier’s technical skills and their other skills take few back seats to anybody on the lists.
Their winning free skate score of 125.32 at Skate Canada on Saturday falls short of Papadakis and Cizeron’s free score of 131.96 when they won the Finlandia Trophy a few weeks ago. And the French – who have been away for at least a year and are they a little rusty? – hold the world record of 136.58.
But Gilles and Poirier are still high up on the list of highest scores for the free dance. They grabbed 130.98 points for their free dance at the world championships last March, good for No. 3 in the ISU stats. The only other team ahead of them are reigning world champions Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia with 133.02, who snatched victory when Papadakis and Cizeron took the year off. Gilles and Poirier are ahead of both highly ranked U.S. couples, both world medalists, who are also looking for a podium spot in Beijing. It’s getting crowded at the top. Already behind the scenes and under the door mats, there is political maneuvring, the side shuffle of an Olympic year.
In Vancouver on Saturday, Gilles and Poirier won with a total score of 210.97, a whopping 11 points ahead of their closest competitors, European bronze medalists Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy, ranked 6th in the world, with their highest score being 207.68. They got 200.05 in Vancouver.
On the list of top total scores, however, Gilles and Poirier rank fourth, with their score of 214.35 at the world championships last year being a milestone for them. They are not far behind it, and they say their free dance on Saturday was not their best skate. There is room to grow. (This time of year, there is room to grow for everybody.)
Papadakis and Cizeron rule the total score, with the world record of 226.61 set at the NHK Trophy in 2019. At Finlandia Trophy, their first competition in eons, the French earned 217.54 points. It’s early season, after all.
Gilles and Poirier admitted that their first element in the free dance, the combination spin – which received a level four – was a bit shaky. One judge gave them a bonus of +5 for it. All of their program components exceeded 8s, going as high as 9.75 for performance and interpretation of music, from two different judges. Every move they made got huge bonus points: Their diagonal steps, rated only a level two, earned 3.22 extra points for the quality in which they were done.
They did not jump and scream at the results, as they did when they won gold at the 2019 Skate Canada in Kelowna.
“We are really proud of what we did today,” Poirier said. “Winning a Grand Prix title is a really big deal in our sport and we are so proud of the accomplishment. I think more than anything, definitely for me in the kiss and cry….my head was still just trying to process a little bit how the performance went, and just trying to figure out where my body was.
“I think we are really going to enjoy this victory for a very short moment and when we get home, we’ll set our sights on the next competition, and where we want to improve and make things better. That’s how we always do it; We take a little moment and celebrate and then we move on to the next thing. There is always more work to be done.”
Poirier said there is a fine balance between feeding off success, using it to bolster your confidence, although at the same time “you have to have a small amount of dissatisfaction with what you’re doing to make it better.”
Those are the scales they weigh every day. It tips one way, and then the other, depending on the day of the week. “I think it’s been a very interesting time for us for that very reason,” he said.
“I think we have gained confidence with the medal at worlds and the win at Autumn Classic. Now I think we’re also very aware of what we want to make better before we reach the second half of the season.”
They carry the medal win in their hearts every day when they work at home.
Gilles and Poirier’s next Grand Prix is set for France Nov. 19 to 21, when they will compete against Papadakis and Cizeron.
So their story will wind some more. “We just appreciate everybody who has been on our journey,” Gilles said. “I think we want our end of the road to feel like it’s been as full as we ever hoped it to be. I think we have spent so many years trying to be successful, and I think we’re exactly where we need to be.
“[The routine] is like everything we wanted to be in that moment. I think really its more a celebration of the success that we fell like we’ve had the last couple of years.”