Ice Network

Virtue, Moir banking on experience to aid in quest

Ice dancers look to up score from Finlandia; Chan seeks consistency
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Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are attempting to win their fifth Skate Canada gold medal in six tries this week in Saint John. -Getty Images

Scott Moir likes to point out that a few years ago, when he and ice dancing partner Tessa Virtue skated to the Olympic gold medal in Vancouver, they were just kids.

Back then, Moir said, they wouldn't have liked the reference.

"We would've been so angry to hear that," he said.

Now 26, he begrudgingly admitted, "I guess I'm an adult."

Being told nowadays that they are "old and experienced," Moir and Virtue are learning both the positives and negatives of entering skating's adulthood. The big plus is that they know what it takes to win an Olympic gold medal, and the couple seems pleased so far with its offseason preparation for the upcoming Games in Sochi.

Virtue and Moir made a conscious decision not to perform in shows in Asia, for instance, so they could stay home and train at their base in Canton, Mich.

"We've had mentors tell us in the past that you win the Olympics in the spring and summer the year before the Games, and in our experience that certainly helps our cause, being ready early," Virtue said last week in a teleconference. "Last summer was a lot busier. We did a lot more shows, took more time away from training, and this year we really simplified things and just set out a plan and showed up at the rink every day to execute that plan."

But knowing what to expect isn't all it's cracked up to be, Virtue said.

"People think that experience is such a wonderful thing," she said. "And sometimes it isn't. Sometimes, it simply adds more stress because you know the scope of things, the magnitude of what winning an Olympics means. I think we don't have that naiveté working in our favor heading into Sochi."

With just a little more than 100 days remaining in the countdown to their second Olympic Winter Games, the couple is about to compete in its first Grand Prix competition of the season, 2013 Skate Canada, this week in Saint John, New Brunswick.

Virtue and Moir debuted their Olympic-season programs earlier this month at the Finlandia Trophy, which they won by a 25-point margin over Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates. But the victory was lined with a bit of disappointment, as Virtue and Moir's total score of 167.87 points was about 30 points shy of what they were striving to achieve.

Every event has a different judging panel, so total points can be somewhat misleading, but for the sake of comparison, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White topped the Skate America field last week with a total of 188.23 points. The reigning world champions, who train alongside Virtue and Moir and share the same coach in Marina Zoueva, will not compete against the Canadians until the Grand Prix Final (assuming both teams qualify).

"It is discouraging a little bit to look up at the board and see that we're about 30 points behind our points goal for a competition," Moir said. "But then we look at the breakdown and we look at the replays, and we've kind of done our homework."

Moir said upon further review the changes they can make to their programs are "easy fixes."

"They're very black and white, and Tessa and I came away thinking very positively that we can make those changes and that they're in our hands, and we have to be the ones to take those points back," he said.

Even with the slight problems in Finland (going past the allowable time on a lift, for example), Virtue and Moir should have few obstacles blocking them from winning a fifth Skate Canada title. The couple, which took silver at the 2013 World Championships, has not placed lower than second at Skate Canada since 2006.

Their top competition this week is expected to come from Canadian teammates Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who were fifth at 2013 worlds, and Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who claimed the Nebelhorn Trophy earlier this season and placed fourth at Skate America. Of the remaining five teams entered at Skate Canada, none has finished better than 10th at worlds.

Virtue and Moir's short dance is to a jazz medley with music from Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald. Their free dance, performed to music by Russian Romantic-era composer Alexander Glazunov, is a striking departure from their rendition of Carmen from last season.

"This long program tells the story about our relationship," Moir said of the music titled "The Seasons." "We're more mature skaters now."

In more ways than one.

Men's

No doubt the headliner in the men's event is reigning three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada. Skate Canada will be his first stop on the Grand Prix circuit. He hopes his short program, which is the same as the one he used last season (Rachmaninoff's "Elegie in E-flat minor"), goes as well as it did at the 2013 World Championships in London, Ontario, where he performed it nearly flawlessly. His free skate this season is to Antonio Vivaldi's Four Seasons and is a tribute to his late coach, Osborne Colson, who guided the careers of other great Canadians Barbara Ann Scott and Donald Jackson.

One of the favorites to win gold in Sochi, Chan struggled through an inconsistent season last year and hopes his decision to focus on his training this summer will pay off. His main competition in Saint John should come from a Japanese trio: Yuzuro Hanyu (fourth at 2013 worlds), Nobunari Oda (2013 Nebelhorn champion) and Takahito Mura (eighth at 2013 worlds).

Three-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, who, like Chan, trains at the Detroit Skating Club, is one of three Americans in the field. Joining Abbott are reigning world junior champion Joshua Farris, who will be making his senior Grand Prix debut at Skate Canada, and U.S. silver medalist Ross Miner.

Ladies

Reigning Skate Canada champion Kaetlyn Osmond admitted she considered withdrawing from this competition rather than defending her title after injuring her left (landing) foot in September. The injury forced her to modify her programs. Still, the Canadian champion should be among the contenders in Saint John. Others to watch are Japan's Akiko Suzuki, who struggled last season and placed 12th at worlds but was third in 2012, Russian world junior champion Julia Lipnitskaia and Americans Gracie Gold, Christina Gao and Courtney Hicks.

Gold, the 2013 U.S. silver medalist, will be competing for the first time with Frank Carroll as her coach. She made a surprising move back in September, when she left her home base outside Chicago with coach Alex Ouriashev. She, her mother and her twin sister, Carly, relocated to Southern California so she could work with Carroll, who guided Evan Lysacek to the Olympic gold medal in Vancouver.

Hicks won the 2013 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic earlier this season in Salt Lake City, and Gao took the bronze at the Ondrej Nepela Trophy.

The one big name missing from the entrant list is 2010 Olympic champion Yu-Na Kim, who cited pain in her right foot as her reason for withdrawing from both of her Grand Prix events this season. Kim was also scheduled to compete at Trophée Eric Bompard.

Pairs

World bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are looking forward to kicking off their Grand Prix season on Canadian ice. They have competed their short program at one local competition and their free skate at another, so Skate Canada will mark the debut of their programs at an international event. Their short program is incredibly personal, as it was composed by Radford several years ago in honor of his late coach, Paul Wirtz. Although Duhamel never knew Wirtz, the composition, titled "Tribute," has become a personal tribute to "everyone who has helped us" over the years.

Their free skate is to music from Alice in Wonderland, and both programs were choreographed by Julie Marcotte.

One notable absentee from this event will be the Russian pair of Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov. Smirnov reportedly ruptured a tendon in his knee during a fall at the Panin Memorial competition in St. Petersburg, Russia, and the Olympic future for the two-time world bronze medalists is now in serious doubt.

Representing the United States will be Lindsay Davis and Rockne Brubaker, a team formed in February, and 2013 world junior champions Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier. Denney is the sister of 2010 Olympic pairs skater, Caydee, who last week finished fourth at Skate America with John Coughlin.

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