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World dance medalists on display at Finlandia

Virtue and Moir, Shibutanis square off in Vantaa

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir make their 2011-12 debut at the Finlandia Trophy.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir make their 2011-12 debut at the Finlandia Trophy. (Getty Images)

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By Renee Felton, special to icenetwork.com
(10/03/2011) - Two of the three ice dancing medalists from the 2011 world championships will stage a rare early-season showdown this week at the Finlandia Trophy in Vantaa, Finland.

Ladies
Japan's Fumie Suguri owns a pair of medals in the Grand Prix Series, with the last coming in 2008. Linnea Mellgren of Sweden has finished fourth or better in each of her last five international competitions, inclduing an eighth-place showing at the 2010 Finlandia Trophy. Russia's Sofia Biryukova begins her second senior international season. She placed seventh at this event in 2010 before recording sixth-place finishes at Coupe de Nice and the Rostelecom Cup.

Men
Sweden's Alexander Majorov is the 2011 world junior bronze medalist. He has spent the last several seasons competing on both the junior and senior levels and owns eight straight podium finishes in senior events dating back to the 2008 Golden Spin. Italy's Paolo Bacchini, a 2010 Olympian, looks to improve on an eighth-place finish at this event a year ago. He most recently earned silver at the 2011 Gardena Spring Trophy in April. Takahito Mura of Japan competes in Finland for the first time since 2008, when he won the title. He finished right behind Bacchini, in third, at the 2011 Gardena Spring Trophy.

Ice Dancing
Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are frontrunners. After taking much of the 2010-11 season off while Virtue recovered from shin surgery, the reigning Olympic champions won silver at the 2011 world championships.

The Canadians will be challenged by training mates Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who begin their second senior international season. The American sister-and-brother duo won medals at both of their Grand Prix assignments last fall before placing second at both the 2011 U.S. and Four Continents championships, and third at worlds.

The Shibutanis' teammates and training mates, Madison Chock and Evan Bates make their international debut in Finland. Both enjoyed success with previous partners; Chock is the 2011 U.S. bronze medalist with Greg Zuerlein while Bates was a 2010 Olympian with Emily Samuelson. Bates was out of the competitive arena last year while he recovered from Achilles' tendon surgery.

Russia's Kristina Gorshkova and Vitali Butikov have been competing together since 2007. They won bronze at this event last season before finishing fourth and sixth, respectively, at Skate Canada and the Rostelecom Cup last fall.