Virtue, Moir win gold; Chock, Bates win nightCanadian pair claim fifth Skate Canada gold medal by less than one point
Winning their fifth Skate Canada title didn't come easy to Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. They didn't expect that it would.
"Tessa and I knew it would be a big challenge, to be honest, coming back," Moir said. "There's not really space for us. We knew that we have to be better than we've ever been, in order to compete with these teams."
Since Canada's 2010 Olympic champions took a two-season break from competition after winning silver at the 2014 Sochi Games, a number of couples have honed their technical skills and carved out strong identities. One of those teams, world bronze medalists Evan Bates and Madison Chock, edged Virtue and Moir in the free dance by two-tenths of a point on Saturday, but the Canadians' one-point lead after the short dance gave them gold.
Performing to a medley of "Pilgrims on a Long Journey" and "Latch" with vocals by Sam Smith, Virtue and Moir sought to create intimacy and yearning, along with stellar elements. Clean, contemporary and natural, the choreography suited their special gifts: fluidity and a palpable connection to one another. Virtue's bobble on twizzle dropped that element to a Level 3, costing them about a point and a half, and two step sequences and a straight-line lift also rated Level 3. Three other elements, including a stunning spin, gained Level 4, and they earned 111.83 points for 189.06 points total.
"We're really proud we worked together, kind of worked through it," Moir said. "We just didn't feel we really got into the ice like we did so well (for the short dance). That's more of a feeling thing for a performer. I think it just started to drag a little bit as it got closer to the end. That's just not how we've been training it, that wasn't the plan."
"Especially since we competed at Autumn Classic, we've made some great strides with this free dance," Virtue said. "Both technically and emotionally, we went back to the drawing board, got back to the intention of every movement. We made a lot of improvements and now it's just putting that into place when it gets to competition time."
Patrice Lauzon, who coaches Virtue and Moir with his wife, Marie-France Dubreuil, in Montreal, Quebec, thinks they are on course.
"Overall I think it went pretty good, little mistakes here and there throughout the program that cost them points," Lauzon said. "It's still rather early, especially for this kind of program, one that involves a lot of emotion. There needs to be a really deep connection and performance for a public and audience that appreciates it. But I think they are on a good level."
The next time Virtue and Moir compete, at NHK Trophy next month, they will square off against two-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, who also train under Dubreuil and Lauzon.
"We're so impressed by their skating, and the seamless way they connect artistry and the technical side of things," Virtue said. "We love their energy, we love sharing the ice with them, they bring such a light, fun approach."
"We're really the underdogs," Moir said. "We watch them training and we're just in awe. Our job the next few weeks is to give them everything they can handle and just make sure we bring our A-game."
Competing for the third time this season, Chock and Bates -- who train in Novi, Michigan, under Igor Shpilband -- had the best outing yet of their free dance, choreographed by 1984 Olympic ice dance champion Christopher Dean to "Under Pressure" by David Bowie and Queen.
The vivid program was highlighted by striking lifts, including one with a cartwheel exit from Chock, and built to an effective climax in its final 30 seconds. It gained six Level 4 elements, with only the serpentine step sequence rated Level 3, and Chock and Bates took silver with 188.24 points.
The program is harder-edged and more contemporary than Chock and Bates' prior free dances, and the change was deliberate. After losing the U.S. title to Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, and with so many top dance teams crowding the international ranks, the skaters sought a new vision.
"Last season was a tough one for us, not just the results, with the training, the performances we were putting out at competitions," Bates said. "We were frustrated, we felt like things weren't clicking. In the end, we salvaged a great season, we medaled at worlds, but it fueled the fire within us and made us search a little bit, look within ourselves and see what we need to find to get back on top of the national podium."
"Last year, everything was very long and soft; this is more of a sharp, dramatic piece for us, more modern," Chock said.
Canadian silver medalists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier earned a new personal best 110.45 points with an intricate and entertaining Argentine Tango to "Con Buena Onda" that featured unique lifts and positions, yet never lost its tango character and style. They earned Level 4's for their lifts, spin and twizzles, and Level 3's for their two step sequences, and won the bronze medal with 182.57 points.
"We want to test ourselves against these world podium teams this season," Poirier said. "Each time we can go out and prove to ourselves we can be in striking distance, we can be contending, the more confidence we are doing to build.
"There are a lot of layers we can add on to these programs now, there are several months left in the season," he continued. "We're going to be fighting for a spot on the world podium this year and that's going to take every ounce of cleverness and hard work that we have."
2014 world champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy skated a charming and romantic free dance to a medley of Charlie Chaplin tunes and placed fourth. Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin were fifth.
Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker performed an ethereal, fluid free dance to Franz Lizst's "Lieberstraum (Dream of Love)" that gained four Level 4 elements and earned 97.18 points. They placed sixth overall.
"Every time we perform it there are certain things that are getting stronger and certain things we need to improve," Hawayek said. "There were points we left on the table today, cleanliness wise, that we know we can improve for Japan (NHK Trophy), but all together I think we're happy with the direction we're headed this season."