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Fairy tale continues for Poje and Weaver

Canadian ice dancers look to shine in Paris

Andrew Poje and Kaitlyn Weaver perform their free dance routine at Skate Canada.
Andrew Poje and Kaitlyn Weaver perform their free dance routine at Skate Canada. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(11/14/2007) - Pigs flew and you-know-what froze over when Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won the bronze medal at the 2007 Canadian Championships last January.

It wasn't just that the unheralded teenager from Houston, Texas, and the virtually unknown young man from Waterloo, Ontario, posted a shocking third-place finish in the senior ice dance competition ahead of national team veterans; what truly made it a red letter day was that the national judging panel had called it fairly.

"Pinch me," Weaver said when the results were final. "I can't believe this is happening."

Earning assignments to both the senior and junior World Championships only added to her disbelief.

Weaver and Poje had a phenomenally successful start to their partnership last fall, earning two bronze medals in the ISU Junior Grand Prix Series after just a few months together. By the time they reached the World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo, they had collected four bronze medals, including one at the World Junior Championships two weeks earlier.

It was a truly remarkable debut for the pairing; considering Poje had finished ninth at the 2006 Canadians with his former partner and Weaver fourth in junior competition at the State Farm U.S. Figure Skating Championships that same year.

"We mostly took (our success) in stride. We didn't really sit back and go, 'Oh my God!' It wasn't that we expected it, but we kind of knew it was coming, because we knew what we had was special and different," Poje said.

"For me, it was more of a surprise at nationals because it was our first senior competition together, and my first senior competition ever. So, I didn't really expect anything. Really, our eyes were on World Junior Championships as our biggest competition," Weaver said.

As Weaver, 18, and Poje, 20, prepare to compete this week in Paris at the Trophée Eric Bompard, the excitement that has defined their 17-month partnership shows little signs of letting up.

"Paris is absolutely beautiful. We had a short session today to get our feet on the ice and we are feeling good. We are excited to see the competition get under way," Weaver said Tuesday in an e-mail she sent on her coach Paul Macintosh's Blackberry.

Two weeks ago, Weaver and Poje made their debut on the senior Grand Prix circuit. They skated away with a sixth-place showing at Skate Canada, after a somewhat bumpy compulsory and original dance rounds.

They will have their work cut out for them this week against a substantially tougher field. For Weaver and Poje, however, medals are not the name of the game. This season, it is all about making a name for themselves as senior competitors.

"We definitely had great successes last season, and our goals in the off-season was to build on those things we did do well, and to show (we are) a higher level team, because we're going for the senior look more than a junior (look)," Weaver offered.

"Last year was more of a transition, we were primarily a junior team who just happened to compete senior more often than we thought. This year, we're definitely focused on maturity, connection and power," she added.

When both Weaver's and Poje's partners retired after 2006 U.S. Championships, the suddenly single dancers came together for a tryout. After a few spins around the ice, it appeared they could be a perfect match. Weaver jumped at the opportunity to relocate to Canada, and agreed to represent that country in international competition. Her mother moved with her to Waterloo, while her father stayed in Texas.

Their coaching team, headed by Paul Macintosh, reads like a who's who of Canadian ice dancing. Shae-Lynn Bourne, the 2003 world champion, worked with the couple for several months in the off-season. Tracy Wilson, the 1988 Olympic bronze medalist, helped to "fluff and buff" Weaver and Poje before Skate Canada. Wilson and her partner Rob McCall owned ice dancing in Canada in the 1980's, while Bourne and Victor Kraatz dominated for a decade beginning in 1993.

Retired Canadian veterans Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe choreographed their folkloric original dance, and American Matthew Gates set the steps for their free dance; a very sultry blues number featuring unique lifts. Those lifts all scored the highest level, a four at Skate Canada.

"About 80 per cent of the lifts we fooled around with and came up with by ourselves," Poje said.

"We can also attribute a lot of our choreography and some lifts to Matthew Gates. He's just brilliant with his ideas. Everything's fresh and new and we really enjoy showing that," Weaver added.

When journalists at Skate Canada suggested that she resembled Bourne on the ice, Weaver smiled broadly. "That's a great compliment because she's gorgeous. She's a great, great role model, she's just fabulous to work with and be around. I try to get that by osmosis."

In two months, Weaver and Poje will be back at Canadian National Championships, and this time around there will be no flying under the radar. In fact, they will be in the glare of the spotlight as Canada's number two team.

Weaver and Poje vow they will not be unnerved by the heightened media and fan attention, or the added weight of expectations on their shoulders.

Despite their hectic competition and training schedule, both remain committed to their studies. Weaver is finishing her last year of high school through correspondence courses and lists making the National Honor Society as one of her greatest achievements. Poje, meanwhile, is a student of Biochemical Science at the University of Waterloo. Just before Skate Canada, he had a chemistry mid-term, and Weaver gladly helped out by quizzing him in-between their on ice training.

The couple has set competing at the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver as their ultimate goal. For that reason, Weaver has already begun the process of obtaining her Canadian citizenship so she will meet the IOC requirement to represent Canada at the 2010 Games.