For Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, the 2021-22 Olympic season proved draining and difficult. The duo considered retirement, but are now back for another season of competitive skating. On a press call today with reporters, they talked about the process of rediscovering their motivation for the sport. For the 11-year veterans, it’s all about their mindset and approach to competition.
Gilles and Poirier started the Olympic season as reigning World bronze medalists. They acknowledged that this wasn’t necessarily the easiest position for them.
“The Olympic season is always a pressure-cooker. This has been true every time we’ve gone through it, whether it went the way we wanted to or not,” Poirier said. “Every athlete is going through that. Last season, we definitely had some added pressure on ourselves because we felt, going in as World medalists, we had the potential to win a medal. And that was something we really cared about, and wanted to direct our full energy toward.”
Another factor complicating their Olympic season was the constant spector and worry of Covid-19.
“For the two of us, I think the biggest challenge was Covid-19 and, specifically, trying not to catch it in the lead-up to the Games,” Poirier noted. “The communication around it was very strict, and it was easy to feel perpetually paranoid. It felt like catching Covid in the few weeks leading up to [the Games] would be this end sentence, when you just simply didn’t get to go. So in that period, we felt especially isolated, and we felt especially on edge. You could definitely take some mitigating measures, like masking … but it wasn’t entirely in your control, like training is. That felt particularly stressful and really colored our experience. Every athlete was in that position, so that’s not something that was unique to our experience. But I think it was an additional challenge during this Olympic season. For me, that was [what] shaped things the most.”
Gilles and Poirier placed seventh at the Olympics and fifth at the subsequent 2022 World Championships. Then they went straight into performing with the Canadian Stars on Ice tour. The couple really enjoyed their time on the tour.
“We got to do the Stars on Ice tour, which took a month of our off-season. It was really our first opportunity to consistently perform in front of audiences again … after almost two full years of not having a full public to perform to,” Poirier said. “That was a really great feeling.”
Following the tour, Gilles and Poirier felt tired and burned-out after the lengthy, high-pressure season.
“We took six weeks off,” Poirier said. “Normally, we would take maybe two to three [weeks] at the end of a season. We did things that recharged us. We traveled a bit, we both spent some time with our families. And lived without a schedule for a few weeks, which was really nice.”
It wasn’t yet clear to Gilles or Poirier what they wanted to do next in skating. So they eased back into it gradually.
“When we [got] to the end of those six weeks, we didn’t have an inkling of exactly how we were going to feel. We both felt excited about the possibility of skating and competing again. But neither of us knew exactly how we wanted to approach this season,” Poirier said. “What we ended up doing was simply showing up at the rink and skating. We just went in blindly and started to see what we were gravitating toward, what would inspire us. It was a much more organic start to the season. We really wanted [to] not feel rushed into anything. We both felt that the stress of the Games really ate into our enjoyment, especially during the second half of last season. What we’re looking forward to [now] is competing and performing with joy. That’s something we want to put at the forefront this season.”
Over time, the couple found some themes and ideas for their progams that they were excited about. Gilles talked about their new programs.
“If we were going to do this year, we wanted to make sure that the vehicles we had were something that inspired us to come in and skate every day,” she explained. “With the [rhythm] dance, we’ve gone with a more modern Latin than we normally have [in the past]. We’re still doing fun Latin, but it’s more on the sexier side, more grown-up. I think that it’s going to be infectious, and I think the audience can get behind it.”
The duo chose Evita for their free dance. They feel that it’s an emotional piece that audiences will enjoy.
“Evita is a program that we’ve been wanting to do for almost 11 years now,” Gilles revealed. “We finally have found the exact cuts that we wanted to portray the story. I think it’ll be another memorable moment, and we hope there’s not a dry eye in the audience. We love really touching [people] in ways, in four minutes, that not many can do.”
Doing High Performance Camp this fall with the Canadian federation was a very different experience than usual for Gilles and Poirier.
“Normally when we show up at the High Performance Camp, we are competition-ready and usually leaving for a Challenger event in about two weeks. This season, we had a much later start,” Poirier noted. “When we showed up at High Performance Camp, the programs weren’t done being choreographed yet; we hadn’t done full runs yet. So a lot of the feedback was given with those caveats in mind. There was definitely some feedback just on the execution of certain elements and upping the level of performance and emotion. But that was to be expected, given our level of preparedness. I think we feel now finally that we’re in competition shape. We’re really proud of the programs that we’ve made in the last six weeks or so, and we feel ready and excited to compete.”
With the duo opting not to participate in Challenger events this season, they know that the skating public’s attention has been focused on rival teams. But Gilles feels this is actually helpful in terms of motivation.
“I think we’ve been kind of hidden, and not really talked about for the last couple weeks. Which has been kind of nice,” she said. “Because we’re going in [to the season] as the underdogs, and that’s a position that the two of us really enjoy. We enjoy surprising people. We enjoy being under the radar and not fully in the spotlight, sometimes. So I think people are going to be a little shocked with what we have.”
Gilles and Poirier remain confident in their competitive ability and potential.
“We expect to be in medal contention everywhere. That’s where we aim, or else we wouldn’t be staying or continuing,” Gilles expressed. “But we’re really trying to focus on the feelings and the moments that we create, and hope the medals come. It was very much results-oriented last year, and trying to dodge Covid, and it was easy to get swept away in that mindset. When Paul and I perform the best is when we’re calm and collected and confident. We’re going to perform every program as it is on the day and try not to be tensed up ahead. We just want to be able to enjoy the process this year and not get too competitive or all over ourselves if things don’t go well. We just want to enjoy skating and see what comes.”
It’s all about staying in the moment for the Canadian champions. They don’t have long-term plans yet for the next quad.
“We’re taking it one year at a time. One month at a time, at this point,” Gilles said. “It’s so easy to think of what’s ahead, and forget about what we’re doing right now.”