Virtue, Moir shine in ice dance showdown with French duo

Training mates put on a show in the short dance

Virtue, Moir shine in ice dance showdown with French duo
Canadian ice dance icons Tessa Virtue, left, and Scott Moir were up to the task in the short dance. © Julie Jacobson/Associated Press

By Pj Kwong, CBC Sports

The ice dance at the 2018 Olympics has the hallmarks of a classic showdown written all over it. Legends Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir versus the brilliant French team of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. I couldn't wait for the short dance event to get started.

This was going to be a case of grace under pressure. First the grace — or at least graciousness. In a move that I have seen again and again over the years, Moir came on behalf of the team and said thank you to the volunteers manning the music desk and announce stand for practice. It is a small thing but shows me that for Virtue and Moir, getting the tone right as they start an event is part of what makes them the beloved champions they are.

In a peculiar twist of fate known only in figure skating, the draw for the skating order in the short dance didn't show "best for last." In this case, the Canadians were the first to skate in the final group, followed immediately by the French team as teams 20 and 21, respectively, of 24 teams.

Being able to see these two teams back to back meant being able to see strengths and weaknesses of each in comparison to the other.

Virtue and Moir were as strong as I have ever seen them. They already held the world record for highest score of 82.68 in the short dance from Skate Canada International in the fall of 2017. They skated with such confidence, freedom and speed. All of their elements were awarded a Level 4, which is the highest possible.

Virtue and Moir had such strong unison as to appear to move as one throughout their intricate and sultry short dance. When the scores came up, it was no surprise that Virtue and Moir had posted a new world record of 83.67 points.

The score was announced as Papadakis and Cizeron were already on the ice skating around and waiting for their names to be called. Knowing that they are going to have to be better than they have been in an already great season must have been a challenging way to begin.

Nevertheless, Papadakis and Cizeron got off to a strong start. Their characteristic speed, flow and terrific musicality were on full display. Despite a slight hiccup in their twizzle unison, it was a great skate that was energetic, entertaining and nuanced.

By the end though, Papadakis' dress had come unhooked at the neck, and I imagine that had to be a distraction, as there is anytime there is a costume malfunction. Consummate professionals that they are, they were composed in the "kiss and cry" area as they saw their scores come up as 81.93 points, which was slightly below their season's best.

Papadakis and Cizeron are currently in second place behind training mates Virtue and Moir.

With less than two points separating these two teams, there is no room for Virtue and Moir to rest on their laurels. The Olympic title will come down to who skates best in the free dance final Monday at 8 p.m. ET.