Italians play even with Virtue, Moir in short dance

Both couples to perform Carmen after virtual tie; Hubbell, Donohue place fourth

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are trying to avoid finishing off the top step of the podium at a Grand Prix event for the first time since 2007.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are trying to avoid finishing off the top step of the podium at a Grand Prix event for the first time since 2007. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(10/27/2012) - Skate Canada's ice dance battle of the Carmens has gotten a lot more interesting.

After losing levels on most of the elements in their short dance, Canadian Olympic and world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir sit in a virtual tie with Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte. Both couples will skate to music from Bizet's opera on Saturday.

"I think we have to focus on the positives today," Moir said. "We had a really strong skate. If we had to fix some things, it is better they are in the technical area, because they are so easy to identify and fix.

"I'm totally to blame for a second longer or switching an arm position," he said. "It's very simple, and we'll be able to get a lot of points on the board very quickly. We would rather have it happen there than on the artistic side."

The Canadians' program to Sir Anthony Hopkins' "The Waltz Goes On," featuring waltz rhythms along with two patterns of the required Yankee Polka, had intricate moments and a dreamlike quality, but fell short technically. Several levels -- including Level 2s on their midline step sequence and one of their Yankee patterns -- were lower than expected.

The team's closing element, a rotational lift with Moir holding Virtue around his shoulders, was awkward, as Moir's face was swallowed up by his partner's skirts. The lift gained just Level 1, and Virtue and Moir earned 65.09 points, just 0.01 more than Cappellini and Lanotte.

"It just didn't go as well as we've been practicing it. It's not really that big of a deal," Moir said of the lift. "The transition wasn't very smooth, and sometimes when you put a lift at 2 minutes and 45 seconds, it's a risk you take. It is a lift we've been thinking about changing anyway, so it will be interesting to see how much longer that lift lives."

The relatively poor showing, by Virtue and Moir's standards, may be attributable to the couple's withdrawal from Finlandia Trophy early this month. Last season, the Canadians used the early-season international "B" event as a tune-up to check levels and make adjustments prior to the start of the Grand Prix Series. This season, they withdrew from the event, citing a strain to Moir's neck caused by the rotational lift.

"It was surprising [not getting higher levels] for a couple of those elements, but this is our first competition out and that's the risk you kind of run; that's why we like to get out there in Finland," Moir said. "Unfortunately, we took a hit on some of the points. It's going to be up to our coach (Marina Zoueva) to do her homework and figure out just exactly why we're not getting the marks."

Cappellini and Lanotte, sixth in the world last season, skated a charming program to polka and waltz tunes from the 1954 MGM musical Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, gaining higher levels and a better technical element score than the Canadians.

"I hadn't seen the movie before; our coach Paola Mezzadri came up with this idea, and we fell in love with it right away," Capellini said. "There was a lot of research; there are a lot of dance scenes in the movie, and we tried to take as much from it as we could. I even did my hair like Jane Powell (the movie's star)."

"Of course, we can still improve," Lanotte said. "We got two Level 3s for the Yankee Polka [patterns], but at Finlandia we got Level 3 and Level 2, so we have already improved some. We are happy we are at the same level as other strong couples. We tried to go for it until the last beat."

In an added twist, in addition to Mezzadri -- who coaches in Milan -- the Italians work with Igor Shpilband, until recently the coach of Virtue and Moir with Zoueva. Shpilband and Zoueva had a bitter public parting of the ways in June, with Shpilband leaving their training base in Canton, Mich., to coach in nearby Novi, Mich. Virtue and Moir, along with their U.S. rivals, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, remain in Canton with Zoueva.

Another couple from Shpilband's Novi stable, Russians Ekaterina Riazanova and Ilia Tkachenko, sit third after a smooth and polished short dance to selections from My Fair Lady that highlighted the skaters' favorite rhythm, the waltz. They earned 54.84 points.

"Our Yankee Polka needs work, for sure; we got only Level 1 and 2 (on the patterns)," Tkachenko said. "The performance was quite nice; it is the first competition in the season for us. I think we did well, but we still have a lot of work to do."

In addition to Shpilband, the Russians train with longtime coach Alexei Gorshkov, who worked with Shpilband in Novi this summer.

"It's really great there," Tkachenko said. "The coaching team is really good, the atmosphere is good and the work is incredible."

U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, 10th in the world last season, are less than a point out of third place after an entertaining short dance to selections from the Titanic soundtrack that was by turns elegant and subdued, and playfully raucous.

"It's a nice [contrast] between the beginning [section], where Jack (the hero of Titanic) is going to dinner with Rose and trying to fit in with an aristocratic world he doesn't belong in," Donohue said. "Then, for the polka, we're stepping back into Jack's [part of the ship] to the crazy scene where they dance below decks."

Like the Italians, Hubbell and Donohue competed at Finlandia, placing third. They improved their midline step sequence from Level 2 at that event to Level 3 here, and are now targeting similar improvement for their Yankee Polka, which gained Levels 3 and 1 here.

"We hit feet at the very beginning of the pattern; it's not one of the [dance's] key points, but it's hard to come back from that because the Yankee is such a quick dance," Hubbell said. "It's early in the season. Every competition you learn from."