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Canadians Gilles, Poirier on pace for a career-first Grand Prix Final medal

Piper Gilles Paul Poirier Piper Gilles Paul Poirier - The Canadian Press

Canadian ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier arrived at the Grand Prix Final amid what is so far the best season of their partnership.

Gilles and Poirier captured gold in both of their ISU Grand Prix assignments, setting the Canadians up as a favourite to claim the Final title this week in Turin, Italy.

But Gilles and Poirier, who had pondered retirement last summer, haven't paused to reflect on their terrific season so far. They're much too busy for that.

"Maybe we'll reflect on it towards the end of the season," Gilles said. "We're still on such a quick turnaround for the Grand Prix Final, our mindset is just: recover, keep skating, recover, keep skating.

"We're very thrilled with the results, we are happy," she added. "I think we're just trying to be as present as possible."

Gilles and Poirier won their Grand Prixs -- Skate Canada International and Grand Prix Espoo -- with the two highest scores in the world this year. Their best of 219.49 two weeks ago in Finland is nearly six points better than Italy's Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri.

"I think there's a whole confluence of factors and it's really hard to necessarily say that we've been successful because of one specific thing," Poirier said. "I think our mindset has helped.

"I think it's helped that we have two programs that we really love to skate every day. And I think we're also lucky that they're two programs that at least so far has really resonated with people and resonated with judging panels, which is not always the case and that's not something you can necessarily know when you go about choreographing a program."

The 30-year-old Gilles and Poirier, who turned 31 last month, skate their short dance to Lady Bri's "Do What I Do." Their free dance is a Madonna selection from the movie "Evita."

The Grand Prix Final features the top six skaters or teams from the Grand Prix circuit.

Canadians Deanna Stellato-Dudek and Maxime Deschamps of were third after Thursday's pairs short program, with 69.34 points.

Japan's Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara are the leaders, but are less than a half a point ahead of American world champions Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier.

Gilles and Poirier, whose top Final finish was fifth in 2019, have company in the ice dance. Canadians Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Soerensen earned a spot in the Final after capturing gold and silver in their Grand Prix events.

"It's great, that shows that Canada is ready to be strong again," Gilles said. "I think it shows that Canada is really developing a strong group of teams behind us. It's exciting."

The first year of a four-year Olympic cycle is always a chance for skaters to reset, Poirier and Gilles said. After a couple of challenging seasons all but erased by COVID-19, and then a disappointing seventh place at the Beijing Olympics, they extended their summer break to a few weeks longer than it normally would be.

The extended downtime appears to have helped.

"I think more than anything, we're really enjoying what we're doing. We really believe in what we're doing. And that has translated into results," Poirier said.

Following the Final, Gilles and Poirier will have a brief break before the Canadian championships in Oshawa, Ont., kick off the second half of the season, starting Jan. 9.

"This time of year is always challenging, because there's so many competitions that are close together, and not a lot of recovery time," Poirier said. "And that's something that all the skaters are dealing with.

"The trickiest part always heading into this time of year is just managing energy, trying not to get sick, and feeling good. I think we're feeling good, we're feeling confident, and we're excited to go out and compete again."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 8, 2022.