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Virtue, Moir on top following strong short program

Canadians pace field thanks to dazzling display; Shibutanis take second
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Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir seem to get better every time out, and that was the case again Friday. The 2010 Olympic champions earned a world-record score of 80.51 for their Prince short dance, and the Canadians, who are seeking their first title at the Grand Prix Final, sit in first place. -Getty Images

If anyone still wondered whether Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's comeback would prove positive, the team has seriously shoved away any of those doubts. The Canadians left no chance for any of their competitors to top them in the short dance at the 2016 Grand Prix Final on Friday evening, setting the stage for a potential gold medal-winning performance in the free dance.

Virtue and Moir lead the field with 80.50 points, a decisive 2.53 points ahead of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, and 2.64 points in front of France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who paid a high price for two crucial mistakes.

The Canadian team danced their Prince medley at a high voltage, with their bodies heavily involved in their routine. They launched into their twizzles at full speed and perfected their no-touch step sequence, midnight blues sequence, and their lift, all of which earned Level 4 grades. Only their partial step sequence was rated Level 3.

"This was fun," an ecstatic Moir said. "It's a tricky and really intense competition with the top six dancers in the world, minus Kaitlyn [Weaver] and Andrew [Poje]. It's always a blast to skate with this girl."

"It's not hard finding the energy when you're skating to Prince," Virtue added. "Right off the bat, that 'Kiss' music is infectious. We love the movement, and we love the feeling of the program, but we sometimes have to bring our energy down a bit to control our emotions. Tonight we managed to be present in every single step and movement of our dance."

The Shibutanis may have missed the second key point of their midnight blues sequence (which was rated Level 3), but they nonetheless had a great skate, which the audience rallied to right away. They managed to create a perfect integration of their blues and hip hop to a Frank Sinatra-Jay-Z mash-up of "That's Life."

"This song is a traditional blues song," Alex Shibutani explained. "It goes very well with our concept of blues and hip hop. We have created an original piece there, and that ownership enhances our confidence skating to it."

"We wanted a cohesive dynamic between the blues and the hip hop," Maia Shibutani added. "That's the challenge we had when we decided to mix such different rhythms."

The Americans amassed 77.97 points, a new season's best.

Papadakis and Cizeron experienced what may prove to be the biggest challenge of their world champion careers to this point, as Cizeron endured two slight, yet costly mistakes during their routine. Their twizzles, lift and diagonal step sequence were rated Level 4, as was their blues to "Bittersweet," but their partial step sequence was rated Level 2.

Their lively swing to "Diga Diga Doo" brought the home audience to its feet, but the team could not compensate for the earlier miss, and they registered 77.86 points.

"Of course, we are disappointed," Cizeron said. "That mistake cost us two levels. That's a four-point difference at the end."

Russia's Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev stand in fourth entering the free dance after a solid performance. Their twizzles and lifts were rated Level 4, with their blues and two step sequences rated Level 3. They racked up 74.04 points and sit 3.82 points off the podium.

Team USA's Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue drew to skate last and were crisp throughout their program. They delivered an incredibly tempered dance to Nina Simone's "Feeling Good" and a medley of hip hop tunes. Their blues was rated Level 4, as were their twizzles and lift. Their two step sequences were rated Level 3, and the team amassed 72.47 points to place fifth.

"You say temper? You should say passion!" Donohue joked afterward. "We're all enjoying the choice we have between hip hop and swing. Even those with swing music are using very modern music. We're all trying to bring the sport into 2016, and that's what the next generation is going to walk into."

Regardless of where they may finish, Hubbell says she's more than happy to share the ice with the best skaters in the world.

"It's a huge accomplishment for us to be here," she added. "Our goal is to be top of the world. Even if we get last place, we're top of the world, and that lets us skate with freedom."

The third team from the United States, comprised of Madison Chock and Evan Bates, showed an intricate choreography throughout their "Bad to the Bone" and "Uptown Funk" short, as they went precisely from one edge to the next, mixing lifts and turns in every step. They also skated in unison throughout their dance.

They took the audience by surprise at the end of their partial step sequence, however, when Chock fell quickly.

"That was just a fluke," Bates said.

"I don't even know what happened," Chock confirmed.

Chock and Bates accrued 70.87 points and sit in sixth place.