Figure skating-Gilles skates with different perspective since cancer diagnosis

By Thomson Reuters Mar 18, 2024 | 3:09 AM

By Lori Ewing

(Reuters) – Canadian ice dancer Piper Gilles is skating with a greater sense of peace since her cancer diagnosis last season and whenever she is struggling to walk out of her front door to attend practice, she thinks back to the many days she physically could not.

The 32-year-old Gilles and partner Paul Poirier have set their sights on gold at this week’s world figure skating championships in Montreal, hoping for a glittering finish to what has been perhaps the best season of their 12-year partnership.

The two-time world bronze medallists were sidelined for much of last season after Gilles had an ovary and her appendix removed in December of 2022. Subsequent tests showed it was ovarian cancer.

“Anybody that goes through that (cancer), it changes your perspective on life a little bit,” Illinois-born Gilles told Reuters in an interview.

“Anytime I get up in the morning and I don’t want to skate or I’m thinking of hurting, I look back and I think this is a perspective thing. I want to skate, I want to do this, my body is ok to do this.

“It’s definitely a shift. It’s (also) a little bit of a mental roller-coaster constantly, I think of ‘Am I okay? Am I not okay?’ Anytime you don’t feel good, you’re like, ‘Oh my God,'” she added.

Gilles’ mother Bonnie died of glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, in 2018 and the skater is active in spreading awareness around both brain and ovarian cancer.

She still gets tested every couple of months and she said her most recent clean bill of health gave her peace of mind.


Gilles and Poirier were on the Canadian team that finished fourth at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.

However, after it emerged during that Olympics that Kamila Valieva had failed a drugs test, for which she received a four-year doping ban two months ago, many had assumed that gold-medal winners Russia would be disqualified and that Canada would be promoted to third.

Controversially, the International Skating Union (ISU) decided to only discard the points awarded to Valieva and when they recalculated the teams scores, Russia were awarded the bronze behind the United States and Japan because their new combined total was still more than Canada’s.

Skate Canada have lodged an appeal with the Court of Arbitration for Sport against the decision to deny them the bronze.

“Everybody has their own approach to how they feel about it,” Gilles said.

“Paul and I had to come to terms at the Games that we were going home without a medal and I think too for us to move on with our lives, you can’t sit there in that limbo of: is it going to happen? Was that my only chance to get a medal? So we really chose to move forward.

“(Skate Canada’s decision) to fight for the bronze was exciting, and it’s for all the athletes who have been clean since we were kids,” she added.

“It’s something way bigger than just that medal now, it’s about the human sacrifice that everybody has made to be a clean athlete. We’re happy Canada is taking that approach, but it’s on the back-burner for us right now.”

Canada has long been among the world’s best ice dance nations with 16 world championship medals since 2002, including four golds.

Gilles and Poirier look poised to add to their medal tally. Despite Gilles’ long layoff last season, she rebounded to win world bronze in March.

This season they won both their Grand Prix assignments, gold at the Four Continents championships last month in Shanghai and a bronze at the Grand Prix Final in December, and had optimal preparation for worlds.

Gilles and Poirier are undecided on whether they stick around to compete in a third Olympics in 2026 in Milan.

“We’re taking it season by season and just really enjoying what we’re doing and making decisions for ourselves in the moment,” the 32-year-old Poirier told Reuters.

“We’re so lucky that every time we go out on the ice, we are there because we want to be there.”

Montreal was set to host the 2020 world championships, but they were cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

(Reporting by Lori Ewing, editing by Pritha Sarkar)