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They entered the third and final segment of the Olympic ice dance competition in the lead, and Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir refused to give up their hold on that gold-medal position.

The young Ontario skaters won Canada's first-ever Olympic ice dance gold medal with a dazzling performance in the free dance Monday night at Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum.

They earned a score of 110.42 points, boosting their total to 221.57.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States took the silver, scoring 107.19 in the free dance and a total of 215.74.

Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia claimed the bronze, earning a free dance mark of 101.04 and an overall score of 207.64.

"It's absolutely surreal," Virtue told CTV. "We dreamed of this for so long and imagined this in our heads. But it's so much better to actually live it."

Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from nearby Ilderton, left the ice with a lead of almost six points over the eventual silver medallists, but they had to wait for the Russians to skate before knowing for sure that they had won the figure skating competition.

Backstage, Moir joked to Virtue when the final scores came out that they had finished in second place. And she believed him at first, coming to terms with the idea of being a silver medallist.

"Usually she never falls for something like that," he said. "I knew she never pays attention to the points, she never does."

Convincing win over U.S. training partners

Virtue, 20, and Moir, 22, began the day with a 2.6-point lead over the Americans and extended that margin with a moving performance to the romantic and lyrical music of Mahler's Symphony No. 5.

But Davis and White, who skated before the Canadian leaders, threw down the gauntlet with a flawless performance of their own, to music from The Phantom of the Opera. Like the Canadians, they included a hands-free lift in their program, with Davis balancing precariously on White's back, following a series high-speed rotations.

It was easily the best performance of the night — until Virtue and Moir hit the ice.

With the Canadian ego collectively stinging from a series of Olympic disappointments — most notably a men's hockey loss Sunday to the U.S. — Virtue and Moir did everything in their power to prevent the Americans from snatching the gold away in front of a home crowd.

The gold and silver medallists train together under the same coach and choreographer in Canton, Mich.

Virtue and Moir gave a lot of credit to their American rivals for pushing them so hard in both practice and competition.

"We have such a great connection with Meryl and Charlie," Moir said. "We wouldn't be here without them."

"Davis and White were also unbelievably strong," said Pj Kwong, CBCSports.ca's figure skating analyst.

"But their connection to each other is not as deep for me [as Virtue and Moir's] and I think that has an impact on how [the routine] is evaluated."

While there would have been plenty of reason to be nervous, the youthful pair — the youngest ever to win ice dance gold — exhibited grace under pressure, performing intricate spins, synchronized rotations and a complicated hands-free lift to perfection.

They shattered their previous personal best of 208.80 points, set at the 2008 world championships, where they finished second.

Kwong described Virtue and Moir's performance as "unapologetic and yet without arrogance.

"It was like they knew if this was what they really wanted, then they were going to have to reach for it," she added.

Known for Goose

Virtue and Moir are known for their signature lift, a move called the Goose, where she balances with a bent knee on Moir's back and her skate on his thigh, as he continues to glide sideways along the ice. It's a high-risk manoeuvre, but posed no problem on this historic night for Canadian skating.

Canada's other team of Vanessa Crone of Aurora, Ont., and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., finished in 14th place, earning a free dance score of 85.29 for a total of 164.60.

Virtue and Moir's victory marks the first time a North American duo has won the Olympic gold in the event, and it's Canada's first medal in ice dance since Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall won bronze at the 1988 Calgary Games.

It's also Canada's first Olympic figure skating gold since Jamie Salé and David Pelletier shared the pairs title at the 2002 Salt Lake City Games.

The strong result from the Canadian and U.S. pairs may signal a shift in the power balance of ice dancing, which has been dominated by the Russians or Soviets in every Olympic competition since the event was introduced in 1976.