Ice Network

Canadians Virtue, Moir in pursuit of third world title

Chan aims to keep up with youngsters; Duhamel, Radford tweak programs
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Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will take aim at their third world title when they lead Team Canada into the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships. -Getty Images

Both Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, as well as Patrick Chan, took time away from competition after winning silver medals at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. But based on media calls held last week, the skaters -- winners of a combined 16 Canadian and five world titles -- will be in completely different places when the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships open this week in Helsinki, Finland.

"This is probably the most prepared we've been for a world championships in arguably our whole career," a buoyant and relaxed Moir said.

Reflecting on their two-season break, Virtue added, "That competitive spirit never really left us, so it feels like this is where we should be. In a lot of other ways, it feels completely fresh and new and invigorating, and a lot of that is due to our new team and our new training location."

Long-time collaborator David Wilson, who with Marie-France Dubreuil choreographed the couple's programs this season, has seen the change in Virtue firsthand.

"One day, she was so happy she said, 'I just love doing this so much,'" Wilson said. "All those years, you always knew that Scott loved skating, loved competing, and Tessa was a little less sure. Now, she's right there with him."

After training the bulk of their career under Marina Zoueva in Canton, Michigan, the 2010 Olympic champions moved to Montreal, Quebec, where they are coached by Dubreuil and her husband, Patrice Lauzon, and share the ice with two-time defending world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.

Virtue and Moir won all five competitions they entered this season, including their first Grand Prix Final. Along the way, they've eclipsed scoring records set by longtime rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

"We're very pleased with the programs David and Marie-France and Samuel Chouinard, our hip hop guy, created for us," Moir said. "But as artists and athletes, we're always striving for more. David is making sure we're not thinking too technical, that we're still able to have a moment."

About two weeks ago, Wilson infused some finishing touches to the couple's free dance, set to Cœur de Pirate's "Pilgrims on a Long Journey" and Sam Smith's rendition of "Latch."

"Brian [Orser] and Marie-France organized a two-day camp in Kingston (Ontario)," Wilson said. "It was just, 'Why don't we get them all together for a little rah-rah?' I got some follow-up time with Tessa and Scott to work on transitions and steps, little details that when added up can make a big difference."

"The technical level in the sport has come up even since 2014," Moir said. "The biggest thing about it is the cleanliness of turns. In order to get Level 4 (on steps), you need to make sure you don't come close to hitting the toe pick. We expect worlds to (have) one of the hardest (technical) panels we've come across all year."

To Wilson, there's no secret as to how Virtue and Moir have been able to dominate again after two seasons away.

"They had a very fast ascension to the top and they were very young, and there were still things that needed to be addressed technically," Wilson said. "They have gone about working on those aspects ferociously, with no kind of ego, no attitude of 'I already know everything.' They wanted to get down and into working on their skating, to make it absolutely limitless."

Chan, meanwhile, is pushing up against his technical limits to find a way to compete with younger skaters like Japanese Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, U.S. champion Nathan Chen and Japanese champion Shoma Uno, among others, who have three or four different quadruple jumps. There's also two-time defending world champion Javier Fernández, who includes a total of four quads in his two programs.

The 26-year-old Chan won three world titles (2011-13) with, at most, a quad toe in his short program and two quad toes in his free skate, and sometimes a fall or two. After skipping the 2014-15 season and placing fifth in the world last season, he added a quad salchow to his free this season.

Although he defeated Hanyu at Skate Canada, mistakes -- compounded by a far lower base technical value -- put him fifth at the Grand Prix Final and fourth at the Four Continents Championships, more than 20 points off the podium behind Chen, Hanyu and Uno.

"I have to accept the fact, and I have, that I need to basically skate a clean short and a clean long if I am going to stick to the technical plan I have this season," Chan said. "Next year is another story. Am I going to increase the number of quads in my short program? It is a balancing act in men's skating."

After Four Continents, the skater and his coaches -- Zoueva and Oleg Epstein -- revamped his free skate's jump layout to open with a quad toe-triple toe, quad salchow and triple axel-loop-triple salchow combination, with a second quad toe and triple axel in the program's later half.

"I can only control what I can bring to the ice, and maybe that is being able to combine the difficulty of the quads with some really great transitions and skating skills," Chan said. "That may be my advantage above the other men."

Zoueva, too, is banking on Chan's superior skating skills to make up some ground in Helsinki.

"Even if Patrick has only two (different) quads, and some skaters have four different quads, the quality of his jumps and the quality of his skating is at the highest level," she said. "He has to skate a very clean short program, that's what he needs to compete."

Virtue and Moir, along with two-time world medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, will almost certainly qualify three Canadian ice dance couples for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. On the men's side, Kevin Reynolds, who won bronze at Skate Canada this season, returns to the world championships for the first time since 2014, when he placed 11th. He was a career-high fifth in 2013.

Big changes for Duhamel, Radford

Canada's two-time defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford were disappointed with their programs at the Grand Prix Final and Four Continents, calling them "mediocre" despite the fact they won silver and bronze medals, respectively.  

"We haven't been able to showcase our programs the way we want to this season," Duhamel said. "The ultimate goal is to have personal-best performances in Helsinki. We do have faith (that) if we do that we can win a third world title."

In the five weeks between Four Continents and Helsinki, they tinkered with their short program, choreographed by Julie Marcotte to "Killer" by Seal.

"We felt the music was too fast, too one-note," the pair's coach (and Duhamel's husband), Bruno Marcotte, said. "My sister made edits to the music, and she did a totally new step sequence."

"We worked a lot on the energy of the short, and to get more connection between Meagan and Eric," he continued. "That was the main thing, to have the short program leave a greater impression."

In their free skate, the skaters changed the entrance into their throw quad salchow to one that has Duhamel gliding on a back-inside edge.

"It's much more fluid and gives them more rhythm," Marcotte said. "They used to go into [the throw] with both of them skating forward, which telegraphed it a little more."

Canadian silver medalists Lubov Iliushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch, and Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau, who qualified for the Grand Prix Final, have a strong chance to help Duhamel and Radford qualify three Canadian pairs for PyeongChang.

Two Grand Prix silver medals, a ticket to the Grand Prix Final and a third Canadian title made this season smooth sailing for Kaetlyn Osmond -- right up until a disappointing free skate at Four Continents, which saw her suffer three falls. On her teleconference, though, Osmond called herself "super confident" for a worlds breakthrough. She placed eighth in 2013 and 11th in 2014.

"I can't pinpoint what the problem was at Four Continents," Osmond said. "Practices were going really well. It just didn't happen on the day. I just didn't feel my feet under me."

Osmond turned to her sports psychologist, Dr. Susan Cockle, to help prepare for Helsinki.

"She came up with more exercises or techniques, where if I feel that way in competition, I can easily switch it and bring it back into the moment," Osmond said. "At Four Continents, I wanted to skate two clean programs so badly, I forgot about just enjoying myself during the free skate."

Canadian silver medalist Gabrielle Daleman had a breakthrough Four Continents, winning a silver medal. If she and Osmond both put out strong skates, they may qualify three Canadian women for PyeongChang.