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Virtue and Moir add zip to down American rivals

Olympic champions look, listen and learn from feedback

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir know they need to find more points to top the podium.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir know they need to find more points to top the podium. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/17/2012) - "Self-appraisal often makes me sad," sings Fred Astaire in Funny Face, but after disappointing scores at the Grand Prix Final in Quebec City, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir set that lyric aside and took a cold, hard look at their free dance to the MGM musical's score.

The Canadian Olympic champions placed second in Quebec City to Meryl Davis and Charlie White, their training partners in Canton, Mich., where both teams are coached by Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva. On a teleconference last week, they made it clear they don't intend to lose again.

"We've made some pretty big changes, I would say, to both of our programs, the short dance and the free dance," Moir, 24, said. "That's pretty normal for this time of year. We definitely wanted to capitalize on a couple more points from the Grand Prix Final to be on top of the [world] podium in 2012, so we made some changes that way."

The skaters will test out those changes at the 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Moncton, B.C, where they are heavily favored to win their fourth title.

"We look at the year in two peaks," Moir said. "One peak was the Grand Prix Final and series, and then we had some down time [and a] great Christmas break, but with that came with changes to a couple of lifts, one in the short dance and one in the free dance."

In Funny Face, they reworked their curve lift, the first in the routine. Moir will now do it on two feet. They've also changed some connecting steps in the program after getting feedback that it was a bit too static.

"Hopefully, we will be covering a lot more ice with a lot more power," Moir said. "We heard that we were stopping too much and dancing on the spot, and we tried to change that."

Those words might spark fear into legions of Virtue and Moir fans, who think the light-hearted, romantic Audrey and Fred routine suits the skaters perfectly. But Moir assured that the essence of the program is unchanged.

"We're keeping the theme of the free dance intact. Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire, keeping those characters intact," he said. "It's one of our favorite [programs]. Even though we say its our favorite every year, this one really feels like a favorite."

The skaters analyzed the 1957 Astaire-Hepburn musical -- marketed in its original MGM trailer as "a lavish, love-happy Paris holiday" -- frame by frame to study the characters, a "high-brow" girl who works at an intellectual bookstore and a "carefree" photographer.

"We would kind of go through the different scenes with Marina [Zoueva] and pick up movements and things we could translate on to the ice," Virtue, 22, said. "We did as much of that as we could and tried to build the program around those moments."

The team's Latin American short dance to rumba and samba rhythms also went in for an overhaul. A lift was moved with an eye toward earning better GOE (Grade of Execution) points from the judges.

"We kind of renovated the short dance a little bit to make it more exciting," Moir said. "Specifically, we wanted to end with more of a bang, so we took the [rotational] lift which was in the middle of the program [during] the rumba music and put it at the end so it's a little bit more of a dynamic lift."

Virtue and Moir didn't lose the Grand Prix Final because of their free dance; Moir's fall in the short dance contributed to Davis and White's five-point victory. Several weeks after the event, the ISU revealed that its judging program had undervalued a free dance combination lift, and the Canadians had won that portion of the competition by 0.45 points. Still, the two teams' free dance scores were too close for comfort.

Virtue denied that the constant need to strive for perfection was a strain.

"It's a natural progression," she said. "Programs are always changing throughout the season as we get more and more feedback and experience. It's a constant process ... We want that intensity, we want everybody to be at their best. At the same time, we have to maintain a long-term perspective. Every season, the world championships is the most important event."

After defeating the Americans by 5.83 points at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, the Canadians took much of 2010-11 off so that Virtue could recover from a second surgery for chronic exertional compartment syndrome in her shins. Now, a little more than a year later, she thinks the time off might have been a blessing in disguise, forcing the team to re-evaluate their schedule and build in periods of rest.

"We made some really smart changes," she said. "We're training smartly and productively."