Changing of the guard: Virtue, Moir win world title

Defending champs Davis and White grab silver; French duo takes bronze

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir separated themselves from Meryl Davis and Charlie White by 4.03 points.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir separated themselves from Meryl Davis and Charlie White by 4.03 points. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(03/29/2012) - Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada won the first title awarded in Nice at the 2012 World Championships. Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States finished second, four points behind their Canadian training mates (182.65 for the Canadians, 178.62 for the Americans). Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat (173.18 points) finally won that world medal that had eluded them the last two years. Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani ended up eighth, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue finished 10th for their first worlds.

Interestingly enough, the four best dancing teams in the world all train in two rinks, just a few miles apart. First, we have Funny Face and Die Fledermaus ("the bat", in German) from Canton, Mich. Virtue and Moir, and Davis and White have heard these two tunes thousands of times in their home rink.

"Oh yes, we all train together all the time," Alex Shibutani said before the competition started. "We know about each step of each of these programs!"

Similarly, in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., we have "Je Suis Malade" ("I'm sick") and Peter Gabriel's "Passion." Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, and Péchalat and Bourzat have also heard these programs just as many times. Weaver rushed into Bourzat's arms after their French teammates ended their nearly flawless program.

Virtue and Moir skated last and delivered their program with their trademark amplitude and unison. They got the best element and component scores of the field, surpassing Davis and White's by 0.5 points on each component.

"We had really strong elements tonight, and we had a great competition here," Moir said, "Even though I know that Tessa is a perfectionist and may not agree on everything."

"It just did not come as naturally and easy as it does when we train at home," Virtue said.

For the audience in attendance, however, the climax of the evening took place earlier, first with Anna Capellini and Luca Lanotte, the Italian team, and then with the first three teams of the last group.

Davis and White opened that group with a sensational dance. Never on earth had a "Fledermaus" been seen at such a speed! Their twizzles might have beaten a world record for velocity, had such a record existed.

"We like to keep those twizzles fast!" a laughing White said afterward.

Davis and White caught the whole audience at once at the time of their rotational lift, and the remaining half of their program was applauded throughout on their waltz tempo. They got a true standing ovation -- not only an American one.

When asked what were the reasons for the 2.7 points between them and Virtue and Moir in the free dance, Davis and White could not provide any answer.

"We do not know, but we will be willing to find out what the judges are expecting so that we can come back stronger," Davis said. "We're aiming for progress. Concerning our performance here, we're really proud of it."

Weaver and Poje skated an extremely emotional "Je Suis Malade." They got the best levels of the field, with only one Level 3 on their diagonal step sequence. At the end of their dance, Anjelika Krylova, who coaches them with Pasquale Camerlengo, was seen crying.

"I saw her little tear," Weaver said. "She has seen that program a million times, so her tear meant that there was something special. We are really happy to end this season like this."

The crowd had gone wild with Davis and White, and Weaver and Poje, and it went crazy when Péchalat and Bourzat stepped on the ice. They skated strong and clean, putting full light on the creativity and harmony of their dance. Their amazing lifts and the great consistency between their costume, music, choreography and body gestures was visible throughout.

Cappellini and Lanotte, the Italian duo, gave a wonderfully emotional rendition of "La Strada."

"It's in our nature," Lanotte explained after the end of their dance. "We need to go into that kind of atmosphere and get the feeling of it. We try to make all our elements automatic, so that we can really be focused on our emotion. We try to convey that emotion to the audience, who send us back the power to keep going. Emotion is our gasoline!"

Capellini and Lanotte finished sixth, merely 0.38 points behind Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov from Russia, whose "Ave Maria" was also flawless, but far less emotional in comparison. That was reflected in the component marks of both teams (49.65 for the Italians, 48.79 for the Russians).

The Shibutani siblings, 2011 world bronze medalists, skated to a medley of Glenn Miller's tunes for their free dance.

"I think our free dance can appeal to all kinds of audiences," Maia said.

It actually did, but Alex tumbled on their opening twizzles, and Maia looked completely lost for a short while before catching him again.

"It's been a challenge [to complete the program after that]," Alex said afterward. "But we train so hard for every possible situation that we managed to come back strong after that. It's another learning experience to put under our belts. We'll come back stronger next year."

Hubbell and Donohue had a few mishaps during their dance to Joe Cocker's "I Put a Spell on You."

"I did not skate clean; I missed the twizzles again," a rather disappointed Hubbell said afterward.

They nonetheless beat their season's best by three points Thursday night.

"However, being in the top 10 feels amazing," Hubbell said.

"It's nice to have one world championship under my belt," Donohue added. "These championships give me a lot more confidence, and I will attack next season more, right from the start. We have our Levels (they got 3s for their two step sequences and twizzles, and 4s on all their three lifts and spins). Now we need to work on our components."

"We have four months before any new assignment to work on them," Hubbell said.

For now, the dancers will be able to rest and take advantage of the rest of the week. As Davis put it with a grin, "This time, we are the first ones to be over with our competition!"