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Weaver, Poje hope the ‘road less travelled’ leads them to world podium

Weaver, Poje chose the 'road less travelled'

HELSINKI — Canada’s Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje arrived at last year’s world figure skating championships armed with the No. 1 ranking and two seasons of rock-solid results.

But the ice dancers stumbled to a gutting fifth place in Boston that left them wondering and searching. It was a pursuit of something better that eventually took them all the way to Moscow.

Weaver and Poje, who have spent almost half of the season training in Russia, have their eyes on the podium at this week’s world championships, and talked about the necessity for a complete overhaul.

“I think that when you make a change you have to believe in yourself, believe in the new environment. You can’t tiptoe into change. You have to go full-force,” Weaver said.

“This season, gosh, we’ve experienced so many things in such a short amount of time. We’ve. . . had to delve very deep inside to find what we needed, to learn about ourselves, to embrace this change and have the bravery and the courage to go out on a limb and take the road less travelled.”

That limb included leaving their home in Detroit last summer and moving to New Jersey. They split their training time between there and Novogorsk — “which is like the Mississauga of Moscow,” Weaver said — under new coach Nikolai Morozov.

“We had success but things were getting a little stale in a sense,” Poje explained of the trans-Atlantic move. “We were starting to lose our passion in a sense and we really wanted to find ourselves again. We felt like we needed to have a fresh outlook and a fresh voice.”

They spent the past three weeks training in Moscow, which had the added benefit of a short 90-minute flight to Helsinki.

They live at an international training centre in Russia that houses athletes in 32 different sports. The elite facility features a dining hall, a rehabilitation centre with Finnish saunas and physiotherapy, and a rink that’s open 24 hours a day.

“We can see the rink from our window,” Poje said.

They receive some government funding, but are picking up the tab for a big chunk of their living and training expenses.

“It’s a challenge,” Poje said. “But it’s two years to the Games — well, it was (two years) when we made the decision, one year now — and we wanted to go all in. We know that when it comes to those kinds of things we have to make those sacrifices now because we don’t want to have any feelings of regret in the future.”

The two say they enjoy living in Russia. Weaver, who was born in Houston and became a Canadian citizen in 2009, has been learning to speak Russian the past few years, based purely on personal interest.

“We both enjoy learning about different people’s cultures,” she said. “Being in Moscow for that long amount of time it gives us a chance to really explore the city and explore the people, just find the pockets that we really enjoy. We found some great places, really get a sense of who Russians are and really understand a little bit more about their culture instead of just the competition. . . A lot of times we travel to all these places and we’re there for one day. You don’t really get a sense of the place.”

The skaters from Waterloo, Ont., long skated in the shadow of Canada’s Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. When Virtue and Moir took a two-year hiatus after Sochi, Weaver and Poje stepped up to capture world silver in 2014 and bronze in 2015. Last year’s worlds had all the makings of gold, but it wasn’t to be.

They have to contend with a jam-packed field this season that includes Virtue and Moir. Since their comeback, Virtue and Moir have set a torrid pace, winning every competition they’ve entered and setting world-record scores in the short dance and overall points.

But Weaver and Poje are buoyed by all the changes they’ve made this season.

“Our career is one of many ups and downs. It hasn’t stopped yet,” Weaver said. “We feel like . . . now we’re back at a point where we feel very comfortable and confident and content with where we’re at right now.”

“We’re very glad with all the experiences that we’ve had this season,” Poje added. “It’s been up and down but it’s been good for us because it’s shown us what we need, what we don’t need, what we want. We know where we feel right in our training and in our competitions and in ourselves. We needed to go through those kinds of experiences now so that we felt good going into the future.”

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Lori Ewing, The Canadian Press