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Virtue, Moir arrive in Nice in 'own little bubble'

Canadian ice dancers take aim at reclaiming world title

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir say their done more run-throughs of their programs in the past week than they did all of last season.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir say their done more run-throughs of their programs in the past week than they did all of last season. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(03/26/2012) - Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are not only ready -- they're competition ready.

Canada's Olympic ice dancing champions, who arrived in Nice on Sunday, are competing in their seventh event of the 2011-12 season, their most ever.

"Having that consistency throughout the Grand Prix season has been really beneficial," Virtue, 22, said on a media teleconference last week. "I'm definitely feeling a lot stronger heading into these world championships than I ever have."

That's day and night from last season, when Virtue had barely recovered from the after-effects of a second surgery in October 2010 to combat chronic exertional compartment syndrome in her shins. The duo missed the fall Grand Prix season and the 2011 Canadian Championships, arriving in Moscow for worlds without a full competition under their belts. At the only event they did enter, the 2011 Four Continents Championships, they were unable to complete their free dance.

"Tessa and I have been reflecting lately what it is to go into worlds this year, rather than last, and be so well prepared," Moir, 24, said. "It's a lot more fun this way, for sure."

Marina Zoueva, who with Igor Shpilband coaches Virtue and Moir in Canton, Mich., thinks pain-free training has made a huge difference in her skaters' outlook.

"Last year, Tessa was injured, and that took time [away] from training the programs," Zoueva said. "This year, she is free of pain. The energy is completely different."

Over their first six competitions this season, Virtue and Moir tinkered with their programs, including a samba short dance and a free dance to the soundtrack of the Fred Astaire/Audrey Hepburn musical Funny Face. Many of the changes, including adjustments to lifts in both programs, took place after the Grand Prix Final in December, where the Canadians lost a close decision to archrivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

The next time they faced Davis and White, at the 2012 Four Continents Championshipslast month in Colorado Springs, they snapped a four-event losing streak, defeating their training partners for the first time since the 2010 World Championships.

"We talked a lot before nationals and Four Continents about making some major changes to our programs, and between our last competition in Colorado [and now] we were able to take judges' feedback and improve our elements," Moir said. "We've done more [run-throughs] in the last week than we did last year."

As usual, the teams enter Nice evenly matched, with Davis and White's short dance earning the highest marks of the season (76.17 points) and Virtue and Moir's free dance gaining the nod (112.83 after a scoring correction at the Grand Prix Final). Neither team posted seasons' best scores at 2012 Four Continents, where the technical panel was consistently tough in assigning levels.

"We felt that the programs were designed correctly; we just needed to train a little bit [more]," Moir said. "It's fortunate we've had great five weeks in between [Four Continents and worlds] and those programs have grown."

After Moscow, where the Canadians won silver behind Davis and White, Virtue again had pain in her shins. Reluctant to have a third surgery, she instead "re-trained the mechanics" of her movement during on- and off-ice training.

"That was a tedious process," she said. "We had to spend a lot of time stroking, working on the fundamentals. That's paid off, I think, in terms of our transitional skills and overall skating power."

The skaters also had a mid-season attitude adjustment, putting their goal of reclaiming the world title second to simply skating good performances.

"Our mentality going into Four Continents worked well, just focusing on our job and having good skates," Moir said. "[In Nice] we want to go and enjoy the process of competing. It would be nice to have the [title] back, but that's not our big goal -- our big goal is to have great skates. I know it sounds cliché, but that's really what works for us."

"We're back [to where] we were the Olympic year: In our little bubble -- in our place -- and nothing can touch us," Virtue said. "It's just the two of us in a place of positive energy and trusting our training."