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The Inside Edge: Gilles and Poirier skate, play

New dance team good with words, ready for competition

Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier have embraced their silliness and applied it to the ice.
Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier have embraced their silliness and applied it to the ice. (Justine Chiu)

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By Sarah S. Brannen and Drew Meekins, special to icenetwork.com
(11/09/2011) - The new and fabulous ice dance team of Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier have been training in Richmond Hill, Ontario, and preparing for qualifying competitions en route to the Canadian Championships in January. The two spent some time in Colorado Springs in August to have their circus-themed free dance choreographed by Christopher Dean. While they were there, Drew and some other friends passed the time with them playing Quelf, a wacky board game where players get points based on how well they answer outrageous questions.

That inspired us to play a couple of "get to know you" games with Gilles and Poirier last week, rather than doing a regular interview. Although we also wanted to hear all about their skating, we realized that they haven't really done that much skating yet! Poirier is also a linguistics student at the University of Toronto, so obviously he loves words.

"I love Scrabble," Poirier told us. "I've also been converted to this game called Bananagrams. On my dad's side of the family, we always play around Christmas. My other favorite game is balderdash. You have some ridiculous word no one has ever heard of, and everyone makes up definitions, and then you have to guess what the real one is."

Here are some of their silly answers to our silly questions. "Silly pretty much encircles everything we are," said Poirier.

If they could be someone else for 24 hours, who would it be?

"I would be Carol [Lane, their coach], because then I could torture young children all day," Poirier said. "Watching people skating all day and making them suffer - it sounds great."

"I would be Betsy Johnson, because she's crazy -- a crazy designer -- and she can do cartwheels down the runway," Gilles said.

What superpower do they wish they had?

"I want the power to be invisible whenever I wanted to," Gilles said.

Little did they know Drew has the power to grant wishes, as they both vanished from the video chat at this point!

When we got them back, Poirier said, "My superpower would be to not need sleep, because there's not enough time in the day."

We spoke to the team a couple of days before Poirier's 20th birthday, so of course we asked him what he wanted.

"Honestly, no joke, almost every year my birthday present was new skates, so I never really had that birthday wish list. I can think of something in an ideal world -- no one can afford it, but I would like a massage chair. That's my dream thing."

We finally got around to asking a few more serious questions. We asked Poirier what brought him to the ice.

"My dad put me into hockey because that's the Canadian thing to do with a son," he said. "I've seen some videos of me playing hockey when I was little. At that age, there's no strategy, everyone just piles on to the puck, but I was in the corner, skating in circles."

He then added, "Oh, and I also picked flowers when I was playing soccer," at which point we admitted we did too.

By the way, Poirier, like Gilles, has a family and skating connection: His brother plays in the Ontario Hockey League, which is equivalent to NCAA hockey.

So, how is their skating going?

"Skating is going great," Gilles said. "We've competed just our free dance -- we're debuting our short dance next weekend. Our short dance is so fun, it's probably one of the fastest programs I've ever done."

"It's insane," Poirier added. "There's no slow part."

Their free dance is to "Pure Imagination," performed by Adam Levine of Maroon 5 and the 80s mega hit "Sweet Dreams," performed by Annie Lennox of the Eurythmics. Their short dance, choreographed by Carol Lane and Juris Razgulajevs, is to Beyonce and Alicia Keyes' "Put It In a Love Song" and "E Menina" by Sergio Mendes.

Fill in the blanks
And finally, a round of "Mad Libs," we asked Gilles and Poirier for the usual nouns, adjectives, etc., and entered them into the blanks in an ordinary, mock "interview." Here is the result:

The wonderful world of ice dance has a new team to watch: Piper and Paul, who teamed up early last summer. Paul, who was born in Ottawa, liked picking daisies and bird-watching when he was a youngster. In school, Paul excelled at bedazzling, so he is now studying economics at university.

When they're not skating, both Piper and Paul shine. Their favorite places to visit are Africa and Paul's backyard. Paul's favorite movie is Star Wars, and Piper's favorite is Spaceballs. Piper likes to collapse with her twin sister Alexe, who is also a skater. Piper also has a big collection of remote controls.

On the ice, their favorite dance moves are stupendous cereal boxes and itchy toes. As a team, their long-term goals include, hopefully, a log at the Olympics in Regina, Saskatchewan in 1154.

We wish the best of luck to Gilles and Poirier this season!

Sweep
The US brought home a lot of medals from recent international competitions in Nice, France, and Graz, Austria. In Nice, Keegan Messing won the men's competition and Mary Beth Marley and Rockne Brubaker got the bronze medal in the pair event. Things went even better in Graz: The U.S. team swept the gold medals in all four disciplines and added a silver in ice dance.

"The team was a really great team as always," Stephen Carriere said, who won the men's event. "It was great because you had some skaters who have been to the event before... or you had skaters doing their first Senior B. The competition was nice and interesting at the same time. Graz is beautiful. The practice rink was actually not fully enclosed. So some days it got a bit cold."

Carriere landed a great quad toe loop, a first for him in international competition, and got positive GOEs on it.

"It was a good competition to get my programs out there and keep improving my scores," he said.

"We felt like the competition went well, all in all," Chris Knierim said, who won the pairs event with partner Andrea Poapst. "Plenty to work on, but a lot of good things came out of it. We were happy to get our feet wet in the international competition scene. This was Andrea's and my first international, and my first senior international competition, so it was very exciting."

Knierim said that he and Poapst enjoyed exploring Graz and sampling the local cuisine.

"[We] had tons of wiener schnitzel almost every night," he said. "It was the best."

Uzbekistan's Misha Ge took the silver medal in Graz. We talked to him on Skype the next day, while he was traveling back to his training town of Los Angeles.

"I'm spending the night in the airport," he said. "I'm just going to sit with my coffee, Red Bull and maybe a doughnut. Just kidding! It's crazy, I have such a long trip and it just begins. I travel all by myself, I don't have a coach or federation or judges. My luggage is not so small and it's not easy to bring it everywhere. Vienna is a beautiful city, I really like it, but after you live in the U.S. and get used to driving your car, your body doesn't want to walk any more. I feel I left my legs in the city."

As he mentioned, Ge competed without his coach, Frank Carroll, who was in China with Mirai Nagasu.

"It is hard, but I think it's a really good experience," Ge said. "I learned a lot. I didn't compete before in international senior competition, so it's really new for me. I think I did good but there are things I want to work on, like the triple Axel! It's been okay before I left Los Angeles. We're going to stabilize it."

Ge's programs are noted for their very fast, energetic step sequences. We asked what his secret is, and he demurred, while setting his sights very high.

"I think I'm still not fast enough compared to Plushenko and Yagudin," he said. "It looks easy, but it's a lot of work. When I do my steps, I really want to share the feeling I have, I want the audience enjoying the passion of figure skating."

Snow in Alaska
We reached Messing by phone at his home in Alaska.

"We just got six inches of new snow -- we've got about a foot of snow on the ground already!" he said.

We asked how he felt about the competition in Nice, where he led by 10 points after the short but just squeaked out a win after finishing fourth in the free skate.

"For the short program, I just felt completely ready for it and let my blades fly," he said. "It was pretty sweet. I don't know what happened for the long -- I woke up tired and didn't feel up to it. I had a 10-hour time change."

Messing noted that from Alaska, the time difference to Europe is even greater than to China. We next asked what he's working on for the Pacific Coast Sectional Championships.

"I'm working on stamina at this point and a new entry into my quad. We're hoping for good clean programs there. I'm not really sure how Sectionals are going to go this year -- there are six guys there who have been to Nationals. It's going to be interesting to see who goes and who stays, and I'm hoping I get to go!"

Good luck to everyone at Sectionals!

-Sarah and Drew

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