KELOWNA, B.C. - Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje have been chasing Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir for the better part of a decade.
But with Virtue and Moir out of the picture — they're taking the season off and are considering retirement — the perennial Canadian runners-up suddenly find themselves as not only the top team in the country, but one of the best in the world. The spotlight has swung their way, and they're definitely not ducking it.
"We've been somewhat under the shadow of Tessa and Scott, which has pushed us incredibly. I don't think we'd be the same team had there been a different setup in our career," Weaver said. "But it's our time now."
Weaver and Poje, silver medallists at the Canadian championships four times behind Virtue and Moir, are the favourites at this week's Skate Canada International, which is missing another big Canadian name in Patrick Chan.
The landscape of figure skating invariably changes after every Olympics, but nowhere is it more pronounced than in ice dancing. It's a discipline that has been utterly dominated in recent years by Virtue and Moir and Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who are also taking the season off.
The rivals had owned the top spot on the international podium since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, swapping positions but always finishing at least first or second in every event. Meanwhile, Weaver and Poje patiently waited and worked.
"We were just hoping to grow as a team and to some day be that main team, and we're happy to take the reins right now and embrace that, but also continue to push ourselves to grow and see where our plateau is," said Poje.
While the 25-year-old Weaver and Poje, who's 27, aren't household names yet, they are well-known in figure skating circles and have a legion of dedicated fans.
Their Twitter page has about 10,000 followers. There's a fan website, Twitter page and YouTube channel — all called "The Weaver Poje Love" — dedicated to the duo with fashion-model good looks.
There's even a Twitter page dedicated to Poje's hair, "Poje's Mane," which calls itself the "Official twitter account for the most majestic thing in figure skating."
While being the top skaters means shouldering more expectations and pressure, the two say they're up for that.
"We feel mature, we feel prepared and as far as being the top team, it happened at worlds (last spring) and we're going to continue on through the season as that," Weaver said.
The Canadians finished second at the last world championships, which was missing both Virtue and Moir and Davis and White. Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte won the gold.
The difference this season is that any number of teams could claim ice dancing's top spot — as opposed to two.
"And that's exciting, that's something somewhat new," Weaver said. "Now with a handful of teams vying for the world championship, you can draw a lot of positive attention to ice dance.
"Saying that, we have to make sure we leave no stone unturned. Which is the usual plan but now it's more important than ever that we want to be the best team in the world. To do that we need to raise our game in many different areas."
Virtue and Moir will be at Skate Canada, doing television commentary.
Weaver is originally from Texas but relocated to Waterloo, Ont., to train with Poje in 2006. She received her Canadian citizenship in June 2009.
They were fourth at the 2012 world championships, and fifth at the worlds a year later in London, Ont., a remarkable comeback considering Weaver broke her fibula in training only four months earlier.
"It's like it never happened in my ankle, but in my head I think it was the best thing that ever happened to me," she said of the injury that occurred when she slid into the boards. "I definitely learned so much about myself, about our partnership, about what's really important, so that was a great lesson."
They were seventh at the Sochi Olympics, and then following the world championships in the spring they took some time to adjust to the post-Olympic letdown that they said was tougher than they'd expected.
"Especially when it's something you were looking forward to your whole life and then it's over and you're like, 'OK, now what?'" Weaver said.
They already have one gold medal this season, from the Nebelhorn Trophy a month ago in Oberstdorf, Germany.
Skate Canada International is the second event on this season's ISU Grand Prix circuit. Skaters are each assigned to two of the six events. The top six overall in each discipline compete at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona in December.
Chan, a three-time world champion and Olympic silver medallist from Toronto, is taking this season off.
Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., who's been Canada's runner-up to Chan for years, was scheduled to compete but withdrew citing the skate problems that have plagued him for more than a year. The 24-year-old also pulled out of his other Grand Prix assignment, the NHK Trophy in Japan next month, but hopes to be ready for the Canadian championships in Kingston, Ont., in January.
Reynolds has been struggling to find skates that fit properly since last season, and has already gone through four pairs of ill-fitting skates in training this season. Elladj Balde of Montreal, who was fourth at last season's nationals, withdrew Thursday due to a concussion.
Skate Canada has been held six times in B.C., but is making its Kelowna debut at Prospera Place, normally home to the Western Hockey League's Kelowna Rockets.