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Virtue, Moir withdraw from Canadian Champs

Olympic champions vow return at Four Continents next month

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir said they will return to competition.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir said they will return to competition. (Lynn Rutherford)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/17/2011) - Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have withdrawn from this week's BMO Canadian Figure Skating Championships in Victoria, British Columbia.

The Olympic and world ice dance champions -- who missed the ISU Grand Prix season after Virtue underwent a second surgery to alleviate chronic exertional compartment syndrome in her lower legs in October -- plan to return for the ISU Four Continents Championships in mid-February in Taiwan and to defend their world title in late March in Tokyo.

"The last couple of weeks we've been training as if we would be participating in nationals in Victoria," Virtue, 21, told reporters on a conference call today.

"We were all fired up, training was very intense, but at the end of last week we talked to [coaches] Igor [Shpilband] and Marina [Zoueva] and . . . came to the conclusion that while our training has been amazing, to master the programs, to skate them at 100 percent and do them justice, we have to be better trained, so we're going to take a pass on nationals which is very disappointing."

"The plan is to be Four Continents champions and world champions," Moir, 23, said. "We need a couple of weeks of training to be ready to hopefully conquer the world [of ice dance] again."

The team was back on the ice by the end of November, doing "secret" training sessions in London, Ontario, and returned to Canton in early December. Asked how certain they were they would be in Taiwan and Tokyo, Moir replied, "I would be extremely shocked if we weren't there . . . We can't say enough about how healthy Tessa is, how strong she is."

Canada has qualified three ice dance teams for Four Continents and worlds. Skate Canada CEO William Thompson confirmed that his organization's selection process allows Virtue and Moir to be named to the teams without competing in Victoria,. Skate Canada officials, including technical specialists, will travel to their training base in Canton, Mich. to review the programs.

The three-time Canadian champions' absence leaves Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier, and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, as top contenders for the Canadian ice dance title. Both of these teams qualified for the Grand Prix Final in December; Crone and Poirier won the bronze medal, while Weaver and Poje placed fifth.

Virtue, who had similar surgery in the fall of 2008, emphasized that the second surgery has left her pain-free and able to train at 100 percent for the first time in several seasons.

"Over the next month, we will continue to train without any adaptations," she said. "My legs, we don't talk about them any more, I don't have to think about them anymore. . . When I'm on the ice I'm only thinking about skating and training."

The team will not leave their training base, where they share the ice with top rivals, U.S. champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, to attend the Canadian Championships. Instead, they will get in several more weeks of run-throughs of their short dance to Waltz and Tango rhythms and their free dance to a Latin medley.

"[Meryl and Charlie] have had a very good first half of the season, it's lucky for us to have them here to push us," Moir said. "When Igor and Marina said they didn't want us to go to nationals, we said we wanted to compete. We thought it would be hard to go to Four Continents without having competed at all [this season] but they told us we compete [with Meryl and Charlie] every day."

This marks a change in strategy from the team's 2008/2009 season, when they elected to return to compete for the national title.

"Our [free dance] that season, to Pink Floyd, it was kind of getting from trick to trick, a lot of acrobatic lifts; it was all about the elements," Virtue said. "With this Latin [free dance] every step that matters; it's the entire composition of the program from beginning to end and the elements really flow within the program."

"We're really trying to go back to the dancing part of ice dance," Moir said. "We still have the tricky lifts that you need to have, but we're trying to make it about the whole package and really take ice dance to where we want it to be. We think this Latin program will do that but we need a couple of more weeks before we showcase it."

Virtue called her latest surgery "a lot more aggressive" than her 2008 operation, which allowed the couple to win the 2009 world bronze medal and 2010 Olympic and world titles but did not fully alleviate her pain.

"This surgery released not only the interior compartments, but the posterior compartments," Virtue said. "Everything was released that could possibly have been released and some of the tissue was taken out of the compartments in my calf. It really made it so much better and it was exactly what I needed.

"I'm not feeling the same pain and I'm so grateful and so excited."