Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir put themselves in position for a second straight Four Continents ice dancing title with a stellar original dance Thursday in Vancouver.
Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., scored 60.90 points with their Charleston routine, giving them a total of 97.30 points heading into Friday's free dance final.
"I think we're pleased. We're very happy," Moir said.
American champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who train together with Virtue and Moir in Canton, Mich., scored 60.42 to remain in second with a score of 95.65, and Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates of the U.S. are third, with 59.48 points for a total of 90.89.
Vanessa Crone of Aurora, Ont., and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., are fourth, scoring 56.36 points with their Ragtime performance for 88.79 points. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., sit fifth, earning a season's best 53.33 points for a total of 83.95.
Virtue and Moir, who successfully defended their Canadian championship last month in Saskatoon, are making their season debut against international competition just six weeks before next month's world championships in Los Angeles.
They skipped the Grand Prix season in the fall and early winter because Virtue was recovering from surgery to relieve pain in her shins brought on by chronic exertional compartment syndrome, a condition that stems from overtraining.
The 19-year-old is still not fully recovered, and planned to spend Thursday evening icing and receiving acupuncture.
"It's definitely not the same pain I felt before the surgery, it's just the after-effects," Virtue said. "I'm putting a lot of pressure on them now but it's exciting that soon I'll be skating without that pain, It's not that bad.
"Sometimes, footwork is tough because of the deep edges and knee bends, but we're trained so it was more just fun to be out there and adrenalin really helps so I didn't really even notice."
Virtue and Moir won the Four Continents last year in South Korea, then went on to take silver at the world championships in Sweden.
Later Thursday, Canadians Bryce Davison and Jessica Dube returned to the ice in the pairs free program (CBCSports.ca, 4:30 p.m. ET). The world championship bronze medallists were second after Wednesday's short program.
Also Thursday, 18-year-old Patrick Chan begins his quest for gold in the men's short program (CBCSports.ca, 7:30 p.m. ET).