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Canada flexes dance muscles at nationals

Virtue and Moir, Weaver and Poje both in top form

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won their fourth Canadian title last week in Moncton.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won their fourth Canadian title last week in Moncton. (Getty Images)

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By Lois Elfman, special to icenetwork.com
(01/23/2012) - Reigning Olympic ice dance gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won their fourth Canadian title with an elegant free dance, but it was not a runaway victory. Silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were just 5.49 points behind.

"It was a little bit of a grueling week for us; there's a lot of new stuff in our programs," Moir was quoted as saying in a Canadian Press story. "The pressure of competition was pretty intense actually for us this week. But we came out today and skated really well, and we're extremely happy with the growth of that program."

In the short dance in Moncton, New Brunswisk, site of the 2012 Canadian Figure Skating Championships, Virtue made a rare mistake -- getting her feet tangled during a twizzle sequence -- leaving them just 0.14 of a point ahead of Weaver and Poje.

"We expect a lot from ourselves, and this point of the season we want almost perfection, and we're always striving for that," Virtue said in an article in the Toronto Sun. "Given the last few seasons we've had, we're back in the position where we have a lot more expectations and we're putting a lot more pressure on ourselves. So it's not just getting through the programs, it's not just hoping that we make it to the end. We want perfection."

Silver medalists Weaver, 22, and Poje, 24, did not come to Moncton with expectations of perfection, but they did set lofty goals for themselves in terms of personal bests.

"This is our first competition since then," Weaver said, referring to their participation in the 2011 Grand Prix Final. "We felt prepared for this. We feel like we're on track to grow. I think these performances were better in a lot of ways than any of the other performances we've had this season. That means we're getting better each time."

With two teams in the top five of the world and ice dance being the only discipline for which Canada has three world berths, there was undeniable excitement surrounding the ice dance event.

"It's great for the country and great for our motivation because it pushes us to be at the top of our game, because we know that we could be on the top spots," Poje said.

The Canadian championships tried out a new format for the first time, with lower-ranked skaters and teams skating in the morning and early afternoon on Saturday. On Saturday evening, the final flights in ladies, pairs and ice dancing competed.

Weaver said it was a bit odd to head to the arena with fellow ice dancers in street clothes who'd finished hours before.

"It didn't change a whole lot for us, but it was a little weird warming up while the pairs were finishing," Weaver said. "It was very condensed, but I hope it made for an exciting night."

Young skaters who compete in the novice and junior divisions soak up the atmosphere after their events are done, and Weaver and Poje said they tried to do their part to serve as inspirations. Both described nationals as a homecoming.

"I know being on the one side when I was a young dancer, just being at nationals was a thrill to be able to see the older skaters and to see the way that they carry themselves and the way they practice," Poje said. "You see the way people compete, but seeing them actually practice and being around them, you get more of a sense what the little things are you need to improve on in order to be more of a mature team."

Virtue and Moir, and Weaver and Poje were named to the Canadian teams for the world championships and Four Continents championships. Bronze medalists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier are not yet eligible to represent Canada internationally (Gilles is American), so fifth-place finishers Alexandra Paul and Mitchell Islam will compete at Four Continents and fourth-place finishers Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill get the third worlds spot.

Weaver and Poje will be ready to put on their costumes and compete again in two weeks when Four Continents takes place in Colorado Springs.

"We get better with each competition," Weaver said. "We like the mileage, so we're going to get out there as much as possible."