Virtue, Moir capture gold with stirring free dance

French champions second; Kerrs win bronze

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won with a score of 103.12 points.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won with a score of 103.12 points. (Getty Images)


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By Lynn Rutherford, special to
(10/17/2009) - Well-done ice dance lifts rarely elicit gasps from an audience, but it happened here in Paris three times.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's free dance can be summed up in two words: simply stunning.

"We're extremely pleased," Moir said. "It's a good starting point for places."us. We think [the program is] beautiful and it's going to take us great

Performing to German composer Gustav Mahler's Symphony No. 5, the two-time Canadian world medalists seemed to make time stand still, giving life to complex transitions and rule-abiding steps. All was done in perfect unison. Their smooth entries and delicate exits from lifts made the difficult look simple.

"They have such a good connection, and everything they do is very soft and very clean," Sinead Kerr said.

But while the audience may have been held rapt, the technical panel held fast to their stop watches, and the team was hit with two one-point deductions for extended [too-long] lifts.

"Obviously, the first thing we'll do [to improve their score] is to get rid of those two deductions," Moir said. "It's pretty easy math; if we don't do those, we get two points more.

"This program is in a very early stage. It will grow in speed and power."

The Canadians gained six Level 4 elements. Two others, the circular steps and diagonal steps, rated Level 3. They earned 97.39 points, and won all three segments of the competition for 197.71 total.

Marina Zoueva, who coaches Virtue and Moir in Canton, Mich., with Igor Shpilband, has used Mahler's masterwork before. In 1995, she choreographed a program to it for recently widowed Katia Gordeeva's return to the ice.

"I learned about Mahler at university," Zoueva said. "This is a very unique piece of music. It takes in all sides of life; it is so rich, so big. Mahler's girlfriend [later wife] Alma understood the music as an invitation to marriage.

"For Katia, it was more about solitude and moving forward. It was a different orchestra playing, a different conductor, a different feeling."

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat produced an intricate, high-energy performance to a medley of Ezekiel's "Kika" and M. Rodriguez's "Time," with avant-garde choreography from French dancer Lorie May and their coach, Alexander Zhulin.

This program, too, was highlighted by lifts, especially a combination lift where Pechalat balanced briefly on her partner's back and a highlight move where Bourzat flipped over Pechalat's shoulder.

The program, which has undergone many choreographic and musical changes since its debut earlier this season, has a rather complex storyline.

"We try to make something like "Alice in Wonderland"; she is more Alice, and I am more like a clock," Bourzat explained. [The program opens with Alice asleep under the clock, and closes when she falls asleep again.]

"It's a fairy tale in a weird way. We wanted to make something really different from last year's circus free dance, and I think we did that."

The French champions placed second in the free, gaining 89.77 points, and won the silver medal with 181.64.

As usual, Britons Sinead Kerr and John Kerr were crowd favorites with their free dance to Linkin Park's "Krwling," but the Scottish siblings lost ground when their diagonal steps rated only Level 3. They earned 86.25 points for their free skate and placed third overall with 177.11.

"Obviously this is not as good a score as we would like," John Kerr admitted. "Getting Level 2 on two step sequences [means] we have to make things more obvious in our steps, and we'll concentrate on that."

Like the French, the Britons' have a story to tell, although it is somewhat easier to explain.

"I'm a man in trouble and she's a spirit sent to help me," John Kerr said. "She's trying to save me from the situation I'm in and show me the light...At the end of the routine, the outcome is undecided."

"We wanted to pick modern music again this year and work within that, and for us it's [essential] to develop characters because as brother and sister, there's no romantic connection," added Sinead Kerr.

U.S. silver medalists U.S. silver medalists Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates had a fine performance to a romantic Italian ballad, "Canto Della Terra," sung by Sarah Brightman and Andrea Bocelli. They gained five Level 4 elements. Like the Britons, they scored Level 2 on their step sequences. Still, they earned 80.41 points for their free dance and 155.54 overall, putting them fourth.

"The music is filled with love, happiness; when we're skating to it, it just overwhelms us with feeling," Samuelson said. "Hopefully we can make the expression even more genuine, more real, because the music really speaks to us."

"We love skating and we love skating together," Bates added. "Ice dance is all we've ever known. We started together more than 10 years ago."

Two-time U.S. bronze medalists Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre's free-flowing performance to Bone and Mary J. Bliges' version of U2's "One," choreographed by three-time U.S. ice dance champion Renee Roca, placed seventh with 72.93 points. The couple was sixth overall with 150.29 points.

"We wanted something that was familiar, but still sounded contemporary," Navarro said. "You grow from everything you do. Last season, we pushed ourselves in a new direction, with [a free dance to] Fatboy Slim. In the long-run, that's good. This time around we're sticking a bit closer to home."

Making their senior Grand Prix debut, siblings Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell, who placed fourth at the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, were sixth in the free with a satisfying performance to tenor Allessandro Safina's "Sognami." Their only major mistake was Keiffer's slip on a twizzle sequence.

"Twizzles aside, our performances here felt really strong," Keiffer Hubbell said.

"I think they were a step up for us. We'll try to polish the elements and pick up the [Level 2] footwork. Probably a little more speed would help us fit in even more with these powerful teams."

Hubbell and Hubbell placed eighth overall.