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Virtue and Moir waltz back into the picture

Take convincing lead in compulsory round

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the gold in dance at Canadian Nationals.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the gold in dance at Canadian Nationals. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(01/15/2009) - With a lilting, lyrical Viennese Waltz, reigning national ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir made their season debut on Wednesday at the BMO Canadian figure skating championships.

They scored 39.33 points for the compulsory dance, almost four points more than their nearest rivals Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier. With a score of 35.62, Crone and Poirier also put a fair bit of distance between themselves and the rest of the field.

The next four couples, led by Siobhan Karam and Kevin O'Keefe with 31.97, are separated by just 1.03 points.

"They really need this competition. They haven't competed for 10 months," said coach Marina Zoueva, referring to Virtue and Moir missing the first half of this season due to injury.

Their last competition was the world championships last March when they won the silver medal. Virtue was off the ice for almost three months last fall, having undergone surgery to fix painful injuries in her lower legs.

"It is so good for it to be in Canada," Zoueva said of her couple's return to competition. "They are so happy to be here."

Virtue and Moir only resumed training in December. Still, the ultra-talented duo should be the class of the field, here.

"After 10 months not competing, it was really great to be in this atmosphere," Virtue said.

Moir added, "We're really looking forward to Friday and Saturday, so to get a little taste tonight was really nice."

It appears five other couples will tussle for the silver and bronze, but it is the silver medal that is all-important this season.

A year ago, there were three berths for Canadian ice dance couples in the global meet, but there will be only two for worlds in Los Angeles. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje's disappointing 17th-place finish among the world's elite last March cost Canada an entry, despite Virtue and Moir waltzing off with the silver medal.

In the fall Grand Prix series, Texas-born Weaver and Poje performed well enough but their placements (6th and 7th) were lower than they had hoped. That lit a fire under the 2008 Canadian silver medalists to ramp up the quality of their routines under coach Shae-Lynn Bourne's direction. They ranked fifth in Wednesday's opener.

"They're certainly ready. I think they could do the programs in their sleep, at this point," chuckled Bourne, who won a record 10th national title with Victor Kraatz the last time Canadians was held in Saskatoon in 2003.

"We've really worked hard on the elements and the power. They're just excited to really show themselves because they haven't yet competed this season in Canada," Bourne added.

Crone, 18, and Poirier, 17, of Toronto, are arguably the favourites to win that all-important second step on the podium. The teenagers made a stellar debut in the senior Grand Prix ranks in November, snagging the silver medal at Skate Canada. Next, they finished fourth in Paris.

Waterloo ice dance coach Paul Macintosh, who originally paired Weaver and Poje and coached them through their meteoric first season, said, "I am sure Kaitlyn and Andrew are not going down without a fight...I'm sure Shae and Matthew [Gates] have done a great job to take them to that next level.

"That should be your duke-it-out for two and three," he said.

The ice dancers now have a break until Friday when they perform their original dance.