At the beginning of a new figure skating season, fans always want to know: What's the next big thing? Which athletes will jump out to capture our attention?
This year, up-and-coming Canadian pairs skaters Julianne Seguin, 19, and Charlie Bilodeau, 23, are part of that group.
The results alone should be enough for fans to take notice, starting with a silver medal at the 2015 world junior championships and an eighth-place showing at the senior worlds the same year. Last season they captured bronze in both of their Grand Prix events and reached the podium in the top level at the Canadian championships for the second straight year.
"I think it was a boost for us," Seguin says of the pair's breakthrough two seasons ago. "It gave us energy and confidence. We started to know what we had to do to be our best. It didn't feel like a rollercoaster. It felt like our work paid off."
As they open a new Grand Prix season this weekend at Skate America in Chicago (CBC Sports' live online and TV coverage starts Friday night), Seguin and Bilodeau are focused on improving.
"We already know that going higher [in the placings] is going to be hard. So the goal is more to beat ourselves than anything else," Seguin says.
Off the ice, Julianne and Charlie give off the same kind of chemistry, joy and confidence that we see when they're competing.
"We're us on the ice," Bilodeau says. "What you see when we're skating is our personality. The chemistry on or off the ice isn't difficult for us. It's natural."
Julianne agrees that there is little difference between their relationship on and off the ice.
"Whatever we're doing, we're having fun," she says, describing her partner as "awesome."
"I never went to the rink and didn't have fun with Charlie. He always makes me laugh."
Their programs for this season have been put together by four top choreographers, three of whom come from the ice dance world: Shae-Lynn Bourne and Shae Zukiwsky for the short program, and Marie-France Dubreuil and choreography legend David Wilson for the free.
Seguin and Bilodeau see the value in mixing disciplines. The Montreal ice dance school run by Dubreuil and her husband, Patrice Lauzon, is like a second home to them.
"Every week, once a week, we're skating with their dancers," says Seguin. "We're trying to express in our skating the emotion like they do."
It's their first time working with Wilson, and they've found the collaboration invigorating.
"It was almost like he was analyzing us, watching the way we moved and then built us a program with that," says Bilodeau. "It's totally us. Almost like the program came to life by itself."
'No more pain'
The work is paying off. Seguin and Bilodeau won the pairs title a few weeks ago at the Challenger Series' Autumn Classic International in Montreal, defeating seasoned competition.
An ankle injury to Seguin kept the team out of worlds last season, but she says she's "fine" now, and the victory in Montreal would seem to confirm that.
"There's no more pain and we're off to a good start to the season," she says.
Even with a considerable amount of top-level success under their belts, the pair still feels young — because they are. Julianne will turn 20 on Nov. 7.
"I remember being [at big competitions] and watching pairs like [two-time European champions] Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, and then a few years later we're on the ice with them," says Bilodeau. "We've just arrived and we're already competitive."
As for their goals, Julianne and Charlie like to take things one competition at a time.
"We don't focus on goals during the season," Bilodeau says. "We try to be better, to improve our scores and get better results at each competition."