Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir 2nd after short dance
Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver, Andrew Poje also in contention
There was nothing second-rate about their performance, but second place is where Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir find themselves following their short program in the ice dance event on Sunday.
Following a pattern that has become all too familiar for the defending Olympic champions, the American team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White bested Virtue and Moir by a margin of 2.56 points at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi to take top spot.
Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov fed off the pro-Russian crowd and tallied a 73.04, putting them in bronze-medal position heading into Monday's free dance (10:00 a.m. ET, streaming live at cbc.ca/olympics).
Virtue and Moir, skating to Ella Fitzgerald’s Dream a Little Dream of Me, put their slip-up in the team event far in the rear view mirror with a seemingly flawless performance, carving perfect turns, nailing their rotational lifts and staying in sync during their twizzle sequences.
As the music ended and they struck their final pose, Moir let out a triumphant “Yes!”, knowing that the skate represented one of their best performances of the season.
Their joy was short-lived though, as their score of 76.33 came in below their season best score of 77.59 at the Grand Prix Finals in December, leaving the door wide open for the reigning world champions Davis and White, who set a new short dance world record with a score of 78.89.
Canada’s other medal hopefuls, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, skated a strong routine that earned them a 65.93, good for seventh place. The pair, making their Olympic debut, were hoping to earn a spot among the final flight of skaters for the free dance, but were penalized for several small errors, including a lift that was held too long and a noticeable difference in the speed of their twizzles.
The third Canadian entry, featuring Toronto-born Alexandra Paul and Barrie’s Mitchell Islam, skated a light, airy and up-tempo routine, marred only by a small bobble on the opening twizzle by Paul. The 2010 world junior silver medallists finished with a score of 55.91, putting them in 18th place. Paul, 22, and Islam, 24, are also competing in their first Olympics.
Virtue, Moir pleased with performance
Virtue and Moir have some work to do to catch the leaders, but they were still happy with how the day unfolded.
“It was a really fun performance,” the 24-year-old Virtue told CBC Sports. “Obviously, you are here to defend your title. You also want to have fun. You still love what you do.”
Moir, 26, said that it was this type of performance that has kept them going for the last four years.
“It’s definitely the reason we keep going. To be on this stage representing Canada, it’s a huge thing for Tessa and I to be part of a fantastic Olympic Canadian team.”
Moir added that they still get plenty of enjoyment out of competitions like these.
“We love what we do. We love skating together. We have a lot of special moments, and that was one of them.”
Sunday's short dance marked the third head-to-head battle between the Canadians and Americans at these Olympics. Davis and White beat Virtue and Moir by three points in the short dance portion of the team event early in the Games, and repeated the feat in the free dance portion with a seven-point victory.
The two rivals bring contrasting styles to the sport. Virtue and Moir boast an elegant and flowing style, and a sense of unison that no other team can match, thanks to nearly 17 years as an on-ice tandem.
Davis and White, on the other hand, typically display a faster and bolder technique than the Canadian duo, albeit one with arguably less precision.
Virtue and Moir have laid claim to an Olympic gold medal in Vancouver, two world titles and six Canadian championships during their careers, but they’ve consistently come up short against the American pair over the past two seasons, including at the 2013 world championship in Virtue’s hometown of London, Ont.
What makes the rivalry even more peculiar is the fact they share not only the same training facility in Canton, Mich., but also the same coach and choreographer, Russian-born Marina Zoueva.
Zoueva has coached Davis and White for the past 14 years, and has been working with Virtue and Moir for 10 years.
While they aren’t close friends with the Americans off the ice, Virtue and Moir have often said that they have a good relationship with them and that both sides enjoy the friendly rivalry.
Alleged judging conspiracy fades away
Another storyline that has surrounded the athletes since the team event, an alleged judging scandal, has fortunately faded into the background.
During the opening weekend, the French sports publication L’Equipe had reported that the American and Russian judges were conspiring against Canada in order to assure a gold medal for Russia in the team competition and gold for the U.S., in ice dancing.
Despite being at the centre of the controversy, Virtue and Moir insist that the rumours haven’t affected their focus on or off the ice.