Ice dancers Virtue, Moir make it four medals for Canada at Skate Canada

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KITCHENER, Ont. - For several breathtaking seconds, Canadian ice dance duo Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir seemed to defy gravity.
The reigning world bronze medallists unveiled the stunning free program they'll skate at the Vancouver Olympics for a rapt Canadian crowd Sunday at HomeSense Skate Canada International, recording the highest score in the world this year en route to a gold medal.
Their signature moment: a "no-hands" lift midway through the program during which Virtue balances on one knee on Moir's back, her arms outstretched, before launching herself into a jump.
"Tessa and I really pride ourselves on doing different things, really doing moves that are our own," Moir said. "They are tricky lifts but we wouldn't have it any other way and we're always willing and excited to push ourselves with a little bit of innovative lifts and movements through the whole program."
Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., brought the crowd at The Aud to its feet with their moving performance to "Adagietto" from Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony, scoring 103.12 for their free dance and a total 204.38 to wind up an up-and-down week for the Canadian team in Kitchener.
The Canadians' score topped the previous best of 201.10 set by Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White last month in Russia.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France won the silver with 185.07, while Toronto's Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won the bronze with 165.64. Andrea Chong and Guillaume Gfeller of Monteral were eighth.
The Canadian squad won four medals in Kitchener, the final event on the ISU Grand Prix circuit. Joannie Rochette of Ile-Dupas, Que., won gold in the ladies singles, while Jessica Dube of St-Cyrille-de-Wendover, Que., and Bryce Davison, from Huntsville, Ont., were third in pairs.
But world silver medallist Patrick Chan stumbled in his season debut, finishing sixth in men's singles. The 18-year-old from Toronto, who's on the mend from a torn calf muscle, fell three times in his free skate Saturday night.
"We felt this one might be a bit up and down for (Chan), and it was," said Mike Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high performance director. "It doesn't matter how much you compete, you step back out there and a lot of the nerves and everything start to kick in."
Virtue and Moir, who were forced to skip last season's Grand Prix circuit while Virtue recovered from surgery on both her legs, served notice that they'll be among the favourites at the Vancouver Games, earning a perfect 10.00 for performance from one judge for their romantic performance.
While all their lifts are impressive, the balancing act on Moir's back is unlike anything their competitors peform. They call it The Goose.
"We just named it because people were calling it The Eagle and we didn't want to be too American so we changed it to The Goose. That's kind of our inside joke, but now I'm sharing it with everybody," Moir said, laughing.
"It actually started as a joke too, Marina (Zueva, their coach) said, `Maybe you can try jumping off,' and Scott said, 'Yeah, do a 360,"' Virtue added. "It really kind of evolved. I keep saying I want to double it, so we'll see."
Virtue, 20, and Moir, 22, were late to start last season after Virtue's surgery to alleviate chronic pain in her shins, and managed to win bronze at the worlds in just their third competition of the year.
Looking back now, they said the season made them stronger.
"I think experience of any kind helps so we'd been kind of cruising along in our career and hadn't had to deal with too many obstacles and that was a major one, that was a major blow," Virtue said. "It just adds to the package and we can handle ourselves a bit better on the ice."
Added Moir: "It's all part of our story, we got five years of experience in like six months last year, we learned so much, so we wouldn't have had it any other way way, now looking back."
For Chan, the season has been full of struggles.
The two-time Canadian champion suffered a bad bout of the flu in the fall which he believes may have been the H1N1 virus. It left him weak, which led to his calf injury and now he finds himself a a few weeks behind in his preparation for the Games.
Slipchuk sees a silver lining in the young skater's setback.
"I think it kind of pulls the spotlight off," he said. "We've always felt we have strong candidates in four disciplines. There's a lot of other skaters on our team that can absorb a lot of the pressure, and it kind of puts him more normally in the mix and he can just go back to work and prepare himself."
Kitchener marked Chan's first and last international competition before the Vancouver Olympics, so Skate Canada officials will set up a simulation at his training base in West Palm Beach, Fla., where he'll don his costumes and skate before a panel of international judges, just to "get that comfort zone back," Slipchuk said.
Skate Canada had targetted two medals for the Vancouver Olympics, and at this point of the season the team certainly appears on pace.
The Canadian team has two Olympic entries in each of the four disciplines, and the team for Vancouver will be determined at the Canadian championships, Jan. 11-17 in London, Ont.

Organizations: Skate Canada, HomeSense Skate Canada International, The Aud

Geographic location: KITCHENER, Canada, London, Ont. Toronto Ilderton Russia France Ile-Dupas St-Cyrille-de-Wendover Huntsville West Palm Beach Vancouver

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