Paul Poirier is a 21-year-old University of Toronto student majoring in linguistics — who happens to also be an Olympic ice dancer.
Poirier’s skating career started in Unionville, Ontario, where his family moved shortly before his fifth birthday. Unionville presented opportunities for him that his hometown could not, such as hosting a competitive figure skating club.
Although Poirier started at a young age thanks to the nearby facility, he insisted that his parents did not move to Unionville with any grand plans of raising an Olympic ice dancer: “They just found a house they liked and moved there. I was fortunate enough to live near very good training facilities.”
Poirier has a strong relationship with his parents, and attributes much of his success to their constant support, without which his training would not have been possible.
According to Poirier, skating can cost upwards of “$30,000 – $40,000 a year,” and therefore financial support from parents or other sources is vital. He also stressed that he is not a product of overbearing sports parents: “All [my parents] required from me was constant effort and that I was enjoying [skating].”
Poirier acknowledged that he wasn’t always the model child athlete, but his parents were there to keep him focused on his dream: “I had my slacky days here or there and I got my stern talking tos.” However, Poirier didn’t need his parents to hold his hand throughout his training: “For the most part, I’m pretty self-motivated.”
The team effort between Poirier and his parents manifested itself in his great success as an athlete — specifically a fourteenth-place finish at the Olympics, as well as Canadian National titles. When Poirier was 19, he felt as if he had plateaued with his previous partner, Vanessa Crone.
“I think we were at the point in our careers where we weren’t working well together. We competed at the Olympics, finished in the top ten at the world championships twice — which is a great achievement,” he explained.
Despite their success as a pair, Poirier felt he was not able to reach his full potential as a skater with Crone, who he acknowledged was a very talented skater. According to Poirier: “…[We] were heading in different directions.”
Poirier was considering taking a year off because, he said, “at 19, it was my last shot to find a new partner.” He wouldn’t settle on just anyone. Luckily, he found a new partner in Piper Gilles.
Gilles, an American-born skater, has Canadian citizenship and has been competing with Poirier since his breakup with Crone. The two are aiming for a chance to represent Canada at the Sochi Olympics. Poirier noted that he and Gilles are athletically “compatible,” and specified that they are both “quick-twitch” athletes. However, he was also reserved in his overall assessment.
“For Piper and I, our goals at this point for our skating and where our skating needs to go, we lack what I call finesse straights — we won’t step at the same time, our legs won’t be at the exact same height. We’ve got a lack of polish, but it’s something we are working towards,” said Poirier.
With Gilles, Poirier looks to the next step, which is qualifying for the Olympics. Poirier is not in a medal-or-bust mindset: “It’s really easy to get sucked into results-based thinking. Everyone does it.”
He adds: “We want to compete at Sochi. But [we know] that’s not our [only] shot at a medal.”