Virtue, Moir hoping to be 1st hometown world champs
Duo aiming for 2nd consecutive world ice dance title in London, Ont. this week
Two pages of the world figure skating championships' souvenir program are dedicated to Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's favourite London hangouts.
Virtue is partial to the cinnamon French toast at The Bag Lady for breakfast, while Moir heads to Cowboys on Friday nights for drinks and country music.
If you didn't know the Olympic gold medallists are aiming for their second consecutive world ice dance title this week, you could almost mistake them for the event's official welcoming committee.
"This is our city, this is our venue, there's no doubt about that," Moir said after Tuesday's practice in front of several hundred fans at Budweiser Gardens. "This is where we come Friday nights to watch the [Ontario Hockey League's] Knights."
The 23-year-old Virtue grew up in London and owns her own house not far from the arena. Moir, 25, comes from Ilderton, about a 20-minute drive north.
They can't turn a corner in Budweiser Gardens without spotting someone they know.
"You do get that extra smile or a wink from the volunteers," Virtue said.
During their post-practice media session Tuesday, Moir turned tour guide for reporters, asking: "Did you find some good place to eat yet or what? You need any suggestions?"
"Any spot in Ilderton is a hot spot, I can tell you that," he added, laughing.
But the odd lighthearted moment aside, the Canadians are all-business in their approach to this week.
"This is a world championships for us, we always want these bad, and at the end of the day, it's for us, we're the ones who work hard in training every day and we want that title," Moir said.
There have been just four world champions in the nine times Canada has hosted the event — Jamie Sale and David Pelletier in 2001 in Vancouver; Kurt Browning in Halifax in 1990; Barbara Underhill and Paul Martini in Ottawa in '84; and Barbara Wagner and Robert Paul in Vancouver in '60.
There's never been a hometown champion.
"It seems like we're the luckiest kids ever," Moir said. "We have a home country Olympic Games and to have a hometown worlds is a pretty rare opportunity for athletes like us. I never dreamed in a million years.
"It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it. And if you've taken a drive out to Ilderton, you can see all the support — the gold banners hanging all over — it is fun. It seems like the community is really rallying around us so what more can you ask?"
Virtue and Moir will be pushed, as always, by American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who share the same coach in Marina Zoueva and same Canton, Mich., training base as the Canadians.
Moir said the four skaters share a friendship, but "I wouldn't say off the ice, we're best of friends. I'm not going to pull the wool over your eyes and think we're holding hands and skipping out of the rink every day.
"We've come up since we were this big and we respect what they do. We wish them all the best. We do our job which is to come out and skate hard and try to beat them."
Virtue and Moir are happy to have Canadian ice dance teammates Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje back on the ice. Weaver, from Waterloo, Ont., broke her left fibula when she fell into the boards in training Dec. 14.
"I guess you don't really understand what you have until it's gone," Moir said. "At nationals, we really missed them and not necessarily for competing — it's always great because they always push us — but moreso in the [dressing] room. We have a great friendship."
Weaver, 23, who now has a plate and five screws in her surgically repaired ankle, was told she probably wouldn't be able to compete at the world championships where she and Poje finished fourth last year. She underwent six hours a day of physiotherapy, and finally stepped back on the ice on Feb. 7.
"It feels amazing, just to be on the ice with Tessa and Scott, and just to be where we belong again," Weaver said. "I think we defied a lot of opinions and luckily we're here, we're safe, I'm healed, there's nothing I can do to injure it more. Very happy to be here."
While Weaver received therapy, the 26-year-old Poje trained alone.
"I didn't feel complete obviously on the ice without Kaitlyn there," said Poje, who's also from Waterloo. "I kind of looked crazy because I was doing all my arm movements where I was in positions, but obviously she wasn't in my arms.
"It was a strange feeling and I longed for that day when she stepped on the ice so I could actually skate with her and have her in my arms again."
Piper Gilles — an American who is hoping to become a Canadian citizen in time for the Sochi Olympics — and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., are Canada's third entry.
Gilles was hard to miss at Tuesday's practice session, boasting a bright bejewelled Canadian flag on the right shoulder of her black and red bodysuit. She'd spent the previous night applying the jewels herself with glue and a toothpick.
"I got bored yesterday and I started stoning," Gilles said. "It takes my mind off of things."
"It's very therapeutic," Poirier added. "I did a little bit. You spend so much time with another person that's just what happens. You pick up each other's habits."
Gilles expects her residency to come through in the next couple of weeks, and is confident she'll be eligible to compete for Canada in Sochi.
Results at this worlds determine how many entries a country can have in each skating discipline in Sochi. If two of Canada's ice dance teams have results here that total 13 or less — first and 12th-place, for example — Canada will be granted three ice dance entries at the 2014 Games.
The short dance is Thursday evening.