I have said it before, and I will say it again: the climb to the Sochi 2014 Olympic podium starts this season, and the jockeying for position in ice dance is going to be fierce. Of all of the disciplines, ice dance is maybe the most difficult to quantify and yet the most accessible to the casual viewer. From the outside, ice dance seems to represent best the ideal of human connection and relationships where nothing is forced.
Paul MacIntosh, a well-known Canadian ice dance coach defines the discipline this way: "I think it's probably the weaving of elements while still trying to portray traditional ice dance. It can be very compelling."
During an interview this summer, the 2010 Olympic champions from Canada, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, told me they were excited to get under way for the first time since 2007, the last time they were fully healthy and able to train at 100 per cent capacity. Virtue has undergone two separate surgeries, the most recent one in the fall of 2010, on both legs to correct a painful shin condition known as chronic exertional compartment syndrome.
Flashback to Moscow
Let's flashback to Moscow and the 2011 world championships, where it was a clean sweep of the ice dance podium with teams trained by the legendary coaching duo Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpillband. The superbly trained American champions, world and Olympic silver medallists Meryl Davis and Charlie White captured the title for the first time. Virtue and Moir, the 2010 world champions, competed in their first and only full event of the entire season, and captured silver. Rounding out the medallists were the American brother-sister duo of Maia and Alex Shibutani, who earned a surprise bronze. I say surprise because the French champions, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, fell out of medal contention and dropped to fourth place overall with a fall in their free dance. In a show where determination meets preparation, Canadian silver medallists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje soared into fifth place.
These top five teams from last season are all trying to figure out how to 'get there' or 'stay there' as it were, depending on where they ended up last year. For both American teams, Davis and White, plus the Shibutanis, who finished first and third, respectively, it's a question of how to 'stay there,' while trying to hold on against some rather stiff competition.
For the remaining teams it's trying to figure out how to 'get there.' The French dancers' strategy was to change coaches and training locales to Detroit under the care of Pasquale Camerlengo and Anjelika Krylova, who also happen to be coaching Weaver and Poje. For their part, Weaver and Poje have decided to avail themselves of a new rule where the top six teams have the option of skating in three Grand Prix events rather than two. This had to be decided last May and is a bit of a risk because if, for a non-medical reason, they wanted to withdraw from their third event there would be a penalty.
Poje explained their rationale to me:
"We know that we tend to get better over the season so we will hopefully be doing four events in seven weeks during the Grand Prix including, hopefully, the [ISU Grand Prix] Final."
MacIntosh agrees that the Canadians are taking a risk.
"That's the predicament: trying to be creative in the entry into each element where the elements are all basically the same for all of the skaters to make the maximum points. It is much more difficult to be creative in the same way that [1988 Olympic bronze medallists' Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall were able to be in their day where there weren't as many restrictions."
Virtue, Moir counting on health
Virtue and Moir are counting on being healthy and being able to compete 'a lot' as the key to regaining their world title. There is an annual fall competition known as the Finlandia Cup where you would not count on seeing Olympic champions competing, and yet this was the competition where Virtue and Moir chose to debut this season's programs, easily taking the title. As the coach responsible for giving them their start, MacIntosh is still in their inner circle and was in touch with them after the event.
"They are Gung ho to compete this year," said MacIntosh. "Scott sounded completely 'jacked' to be on the ice and competing and getting the chance to really train flat out this season."
It won't really matter how the results play out, as no matter what happens, we are in for a great season of ice dance.
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