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Canadians locked in virtual tie with Americans

Short dance sets up showdown between top teams

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir lead by the slimmest of margins going into Saturday's free dance.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir lead by the slimmest of margins going into Saturday's free dance. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(04/29/2011) - After two near-flawless short dances, just .53 separates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White, heading into tomorrow's free dance.

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France are third, some 3.32 points off the lead. Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, making their senior worlds' debut, are a stunning fourth, while fellow worlds' newcomers Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein sit ninth.

As Igor Shpilband -- who coaches both of the top couples -- predicted, it's too close to call.

Neither team put a foot wrong in their short dances. Performing to Waltz and Tango rhythms, Virtue and Moir, the Canadian Olympic champions, earned 74.29 points, some 4.89 more than they notched winning the short dance at the 2011 ISU Four Continents Championships in February.

"The flow is better," Moir said. "I think we were able to capitalize on good speed, good skating. We had a great technical skate at Four Continents, but the training wasn't there. Since we've had two more months, I'd like to see a five-point [improvement]."

Both teams gained four Level 4 elements, with the Canadians edging the U.S. champions in the technical score due to slightly higher grades of execution on the mid-line steps. Davis and White eked out .05 more than their rivals in program components.

The Americans kept their composure after an unsettled six-minute warm-up that saw White fall on, and then turn out of, twizzle sequences.

"I didn't really get too nervous; it was a little bit fluky," he said. "The twizzles have been feeling fine. On the first one, we sort of knocked legs, which I don't think we've ever done. We almost hit Ekaterina [Bobrova] and her partner [Dmitri Soloviev] twice, and so I sort of stopped because I didn't want to step right into him."

"It was just a traffic malfunction," Davis said. "The program felt great. We're pleased with the performance tonight and ready to put out a world championship performance in the free tomorrow."

If Davis and White are victorious, it will mark the first time a U.S. ice dance team has brought home a world title.

"It would be that much more special if it were to happen," Davis said. "But at this point Charlie and I really have to keep ourselves in the bubble that we're in, and that's what we're going to do tomorrow."

The couples will show contrasting styles tomorrow, with Virtue and Moir performing a sexy, playful Samba, and Davis and White showing an intense yet romantic Argentine Tango. With the score so close, the slightest slip, trip or wandering twizzle could make the difference in gold.

"I would love to be 15 points ahead, but it's not a bad thing," White said. "We absolutely love our free dance. It's been getting great reviews, and if we go out there and skate like we know we can, we're going to give ourselves a great shot."

Pechalat and Bourzat, who previously trained in Lyon, moved to Moscow three years ago to work with 1993 world champion Alexander Zhulin. Since then, their results have improved drastically; in January, they won the European title.

Here, they earned 70.97 points for a mature, controlled routine to music from Dr. Zhivago.

"Since we are here in Russia working with Alexander Zhulin, we learned a different way of skating and so from this we change almost all our technique," Bourzat said. "I feel like I just started to really skate when I came here."

Performing to Rodgers and Hammerstein's "Carousel Waltz," the Shibutani siblings, who like the two top teams are coached by Shpilband and Marina Zoueva in Canton, Mich., had an impressive start at their first world championships. The U.S. silver medalists stand 4.09 points out of the medals.

"We've been working so hard this year, I just told Maia to relax and enjoy the moment of knowing the feeling of our first worlds," Alex said. "I really wanted her to soak it all in."

"I think that program was a lot of hard work we were able to do together with our coaches," Maia said. "That was the best short dance that we could hope for."

Yet another Canton team, U.S. bronze medalists Chock and Zuerlein, had a clean and energetic outing of their program to Edith Piaf Waltzes. They stand ninth going in to the free dance.

"This whole year, I wouldn't say we've had a rough time with the short dance, but we've kind of stumbled on a few things throughout the season," Zuerlein said. "We're really happy to put out a clean performance, this being worlds."

"This the last time we get to do this program," Chock said. "It's fun to skate to, and it's powerful."