Virtue, Moir hit the ice at Four Continents

Virtue, Moir hit the ice at Four Continents

Canadians show off sinuous samba, but no goose

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir return to competition at Four Continents.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir return to competition at Four Continents. (Getty Images)

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By Alexandra Stevenson and Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/16/2011) - It's been eleven months since Olympic and world ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took part in an ISU event.

When they pulled out of the Canadian Championships in January, even some "uber" fans started to fear a comeback was not possible.

But on Tuesday, after undulating on to the ice in the Taipei Arena, it was obvious their magic has not faded.

The Canadians performed their free dance for an audience of not more than 22 in the 15,000-seat stadium, although every ice dance official here in Taipei was watching intently from the restricted ice level.

Even with the stops -- after all this was the first practice after flying practically half way around the world the day before -- it was obvious this was a masterpiece.

Set to the pulsating drums of Thalia's "Mujer Latina" and Diana Krall's slow and sweet "Temptation," it is such an explosive, sinuous dance you almost forget they are on skates. They put it together with ballroom experts and then had to figure out how to move it on to the ice.

"It wasn't easy," Scott said. "We spoke to a lot of technical specialists. Above all, it is important to get the maximum levels for our elements."

"We wanted something that was really ballroom, really dancing," Virtue said.

The routine is mind-boggling in its intensity. Obviously both partners must be 100% fit. No wonder, when asked whether she was cold in the empty arena, the lightly clad Virtue said, "No. By the end, I was sweating."

Marina Zoueva, who coaches the couple in Canton, Mich., with Igor Shpilband, said, "Samba, is not a skating rhythm. I think only Tessa could pull this off."

Virtue's free dance costume is mostly illusion material. The outfit is backless and sleeveless with the left side cut out. The small amount of material is shocking pink with an accent of burning orange and a flash of silver.

Moir is all in black, a smooth, sophisticated gigolo showing her off to perfection. At one point, he twists her up into the air and juggles her around like a baton.

What about the unique lift they made famous at the Vancouver Olympics last year, named "the Goose" because she flew off his back?

"Please," Moir said disparagingly. "That's so 2010. Not to take anything away from the Olympic programs, but if we were doing the Gustav Mahler (Symphony No.5) again this year, we'd have been at nationals, no problem. But this free dance is the hardest one we've ever done, the most intricate."

Winning Olympic gold has made them Canadian legends and opened up huge vistas of unimagined opportunities, including a book deal ("Our Journey from Childhood Dream to Gold," written with Steve Milton) and having dinner with the Queen of England.

However, on Oct. 6, Virtue underwent a "more aggressive" repeat of her 2008 surgery for chronic exertional compartment syndrome. This time, instead of opening up her shins, doctors operated on both of her calves.

Virtue now believes she came back from the original 2008 surgery too soon, but now says she's better than ever.

The Canadians are very aware of the progress made this season by their main rivals, Meryl Davis and Charlie White. How could they not be aware? They train alongside them every day.

Davis and White showed off their Tango free dance today, which earned them their third straight title in Greensboro. The American's Tango is as intricate and challenging as the Canadian's Samba; in Greensboro, White said, "We really wanted to give an emotional performance tonight and we are in fantastic shape. It's one thing to do the athleticism, but to put the emotion in the program really takes it out of you."

Also competing their short dances Thursday, the event which opens these championships, are U.S. silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, and U.S. bronze medalists Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein; and Canadian gold medalists Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier, and Canadian silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje.

Four world champions at Four Continents

For the first time since Four Continents began in 1999, all four reigning world champions -- ice dancers Virtue and Moir; Japan's men's world champion Daisuke Takahashi and ladies champion Mao Asada; and China's top pair Qing Pang and Jian Tong -- are competing.