Barely a step or a turn or the flourish of a hand separated Canada's top two ice dance teams at the Canadian figure skating championships Sunday — a testament to the riches Canada enjoys in the sport.
Vanessa Crone of Aurora, Ont., and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., captured their first national senior ice dance title by the narrowest of margins, scoring 98.41 points for their performance to the Beatles' Eleanor Rigby, for 164.21 points overall.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., finished barely a point behind them for silver with 163.18, scoring 97.54 with their dramatic free dance program to music from Moulin Rouge. Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam of Barrie, Ont., who won silver at the world junior championships last year, took the bronze with 153.90.
"It was definitely close and it was a great competition, Kaitlyn and Andrew have really pushed us," Crone said. "It's definitely good to have someone right there with you, it motivates you and gets you that much stronger and make you go a little bit more."
The field at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre was missing Olympic and world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who announced earlier this week that they'll make their season debut at next month's ISU Four Continents event.
Their apparent successors are anything but. Weaver and Poje have been hot on the heels of Crone and Poirier, finishing runner-up to their rivals Sunday for the third consecutive year. At last year's Olympic trials, Crone and Poirier beat Weaver and Poje by a mere half a point, securing a spot on the Vancouver team and leaving Weaver and Poje to watch from home.
'Miles from last year'
"Ten seconds ago, we were just thrilled with our performance and we still are, we can't let the result change how we feel about today and how we feel about this week because we've grown so much coming miles from last year," Weaver said. "This season isn't over yet.
"With results like this that are so marginal, there's no doubt in my mind that the tables could be turned at the worlds or at Four Continents.
"We just have to work hard at home and improve every single thing and I think we can definitely succeed in the last half of the season."
Virtue is still recovering from surgery to alleviate chronic pain in her legs, but Canada's ice dance stars will still be named to the team for the world championships this March in Tokyo.
Crone and Poirier earned an entry for the world championships with the victory. Weaver and Poje picked up the other spot.
"It's been a very long road for Vanessa and I," Poirier said. "It was such an intense competition again because everyone was so strong and we were just so happy to have been able to perform at our best this competition. We're just finishing up our 10th season together, so this is just a really nice treat for us, a 10th-anniversary thing."
Despite the absence of the Olympic champions, Canada has enjoyed ice dance success this season. Crone, 20, and Poirier, 19, were 14th at the Vancouver Olympics and then seventh at last year's world championships.
They have been steadily climbing up the ice dance ranks this season, winning bronze at the ISU Grand Prix Final in December, where Weaver, 21, and 23-year-old Poje were fifth.
Both teams earned standing ovations for their performances Sunday.
"When you give the audience what they want like that, and when they stand for you, it's the biggest adrenalin rush you can get in figure skating," Weaver said. "We are elated with how we performed this week."