The only evidence of a roller-coaster season for Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir came in the final few moments of their otherwise dazzling performance Saturday.
Canada's Olympic ice dance gold medallists had to settle for silver at the world figure skating championships — a significant accomplishment in a season some thought they should skip altogether.
"It was a little bit sloppy at the end, we got a little bit tired, but we were definitely in the moment and skating each step 100 per cent, which is exactly what we wanted to do, we didn't want to hold back," Virtue said. "We have to be proud of what we accomplished. This year was about pushing ourselves and challenging ourselves within the program."
Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, runners-up to the Canadians at both the 2010 Olympics and world championships, claimed the gold with a total score of 185.27 points.
Virtue and Moir, competing six months after the 21-year-old Virtue underwent surgery on her legs, earned 181.79 in the debut of their spicy free dance program that was an upbeat mix of rumba, jazz and Latin pop.
Sixteen-year-old Maia Shibutani and her 20-year-old brother Alex of the U.S. were surprise bronze medallists with 163.79.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., were fifth, while Vanessa Crone of Toronto and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., finished 10th.
Virtue, from London, Ont., and the 23-year-old Moir, a native of Ilderton, Ont., were the youngest Olympic ice dance gold medallists in Vancouver and the first North Americans. They went on to win their first world title last year in Turin, Italy.
But it was clear in the fall that Virtue needed more surgery to alleviate the chronic pain in her legs caused by compartment syndrome, and they weren't able to get back on the ice until mid-December. They'd competed just once this season before Moscow, at the Four Continents in February, but tightness in Virtue's thigh forced them to pull out just seconds into their free dance.
"This is the first time they've done a whole competition this year and that's tough, you need more miles," said William Thompson, Skate Canada's CEO.
Their much-anticipated free dance debuted to rave reviews. Virtue in gold tassels, her hair slicked back in a long ponytail, and Moir in a tight black v-neck and slacks, they opened with a hip-swivelling rumba, moved into the smooth jazz stylings of Diana Krall, and ended to the energetic music of Latin singer Thalia.
"I thought it was really sensational, a program like that moves the sport forward," said former Canadian ice dancer Tracy Wilson, a three-time world bronze medallist.
Their program was a complete departure from the romantic long program that helped them earn gold in Vancouver.
"Exactly," said Virtue. "That was what we wanted, we didn't want to be that team that gets stuck in a certain genre."
Added Moir: "Our program is unlike anything we've ever done before, and perhaps maybe something the ice dance world hasn't seen. We're pushing the sport and we have to be happy with that."
All three medallists hail from ice dance's new hotbed in Canton, Mich., and train under coaches Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband. The ice dance medal sweep was the first for North Americans, and the fact it happened in Russia, which dominated the event for decades, provided an intriguing twist.
"Woo hoo!" Moir cheered at the post-event news conference, when asked about the North American sweep. "Oh right, we're in Russia," he added, muttering.
The three teams are good friends and say there's simply an atmosphere of excellence at their rink.
"We know we're going to challenge each other and we're really excited for each other," Moir said. "We want them to be as good as they can be, we want all our competitors to be at the top of their game.
"We hold no grudges, we're really proud of them, they're great people, they deserve everything they get."
Virtue and Moir could have taken a pass on this season or retired from competing altogether — they've won world championship medals of every colour.
"For right now that's where we're comfortable, that's what we love," Virtue said. "We love to train every day, we love being amateur athletes, and most of all we love to compete, and we thought as long as we had that fire within us. . . it was right for us to continue."
There's also the allure of repeating as champions, something that could keep the two skating another three years to the 2014 Sochi Olympics. They haven't committed to doing so.
"We didn't want it to be just a one-time thing," Virtue said. Weaver and Poje, who skated a passionate program to the music from Moulin Rouge, were thrilled with their fifth-place finish. They were the third-ranked Canadian team coming into the world championships and had to compete in the qualifying rounds here to earn a spot in the main draw.
"We're so proud," Weaver said. "Of all the places to do it, this is the place to do it."