Olympics Winter

Virtue, Moir target 1 colour: Olympic gold

It was brought to Canadian ice dancer Scott Moir's attention that many in the figure skating community believe he and 20-year-old partner Tessa Virtue will win the competition in Vancouver.

Innovative Canadian ice dancers expect nothing less than victory in Vancouver

Scott Moir loves to keep his mood loose when he speaks to reporters.

A light-hearted joke often follows a question — something the 22-year-old London, Ont., native continually enjoys sharing.

His easy-going nature explains why no eyebrows were raised, no facial expressions changed, when the subject turned to the Olympic Games during a media day session at the Skate Canada event in Kitchener, Ont., in Novemeber.

It was brought to Moir's attention that many in the figure skating community believe he and 20-year-old partner Tessa Virtue will win the competition in Vancouver.

This was when the smile was briefly wiped away, and Moir, in a rare serious moment, but with his usual subtle demeanour, agreed.

"That is our goal," he began. "Nobody has bigger expectations than we do. We think that we're going to be on top of the podium. That's what we drive for and that's what we push every day to get.

"So it's nice to hear actually. I like hearing when people say that you're gold-medal favourites. Like 'Yeah, we are going to be there, we are going win the gold.' "

Canada's best hope

The talented duo has won two Grand Prix events this season, including Skate Canada in November. ((Francois Mori/Associated Press))
Moir wasn't being arrogant. He was speaking as a skater who has surveyed the landscape of his sport throughout the year.

Patrick Chan is rebounding from a calf injury, and while the Canadian champion says he's completely healthy, his sixth-place finish in Kitchener was worrisome.

Joannie Rochette, the 2009 world silver medallist, was nowhere near that form this season until she put on an outstanding effort at the national championships in London, Ont., just 26 days before the Games open. Even if the Quebec athlete skates the program of a lifetime in Vancouver, it's difficult in some people's minds to imagine her dethroning world champion Yu-Na Kim of South Korea.

This brings us back to Moir and Virtue, his long-time London partner. The talented duo has won two Grand Prix events this season, including Skate Canada. They also finished a close second to their U.S. chums, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, at the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo.

It's worth noting that the compulsory dance discipline was not part of the Japanese competition, putting into question the legitimacy of the victory by the Americans.

And they were outstanding at the national championships in London this week, piling up 221.95 points.

"Realistically, if we put ourselves in position, we're going to be there," Moir said. "We both believe that it's going to happen, so we're excited."

International skaters besieged with questions

Other factors are playing into the hands of the two-time Canadian title-holders.

Defending world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia have been lying low through the Grand Prix season, causing speculation the latter is injured again.

Former world champion Isabelle Delobel returns after having a baby, making for slow progress with French partner Olivier Schoenfelder.

The U.S. team of Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto — silver medallists at the Torino Olympics — should contend, but some feel they've already been surpassed by their U.S. rivals.

"It really doesn't matter what problems the Russian and French teams are dealing with," said CBCSports.ca figure-skating expert Pj Kwong. "Tessa and Scott are the front-runners, pure and simple."

The Innovators

Moreover, Virtue and Moir are considered innovators in their sport, with an impact similar to the legendary British team of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who dominated the ice-dance scene in the early 1980s.

Virtue and Moir's breathtaking touchless-lift routine is only one of many reasons the Canadians are considered innovators in their sport. ((Junji Kurokawa/Associated Press))
"They both are equally talented, have a beautiful physical match and have wonderful chemistry," gushes Kwong. "They have been skating together since they were seven and nine, respectively, so they are instinctive in their responses to one another. They don't even need to think about where each other is and [they] are creative."

Their imagination produced a touchless-lift routine as part of their free dance, which sees Virtue balanced with one blade — hands free — on Moir's upper thigh. The added element to the move this year had Virtue dismounting with a one-revolution rotation before landing backwards on one foot.

ISU judges stepped in on that one, however, and suggested it was likely illegal, forcing the couple to introduce a version of "The Goose" without the rotational dismount, at the nationals.

Competing on the international senior stage for only four seasons, Moir and Virtue have shared a meteoric rise in ice dance. The dynamic couple have already won two world championship medals — silver in 2008 and bronze in 2009.

In fact, Virtue and Moir point to last season's bronze-medal performance as the moment their confidence skyrocketed toward the Olympic gold-medal pursuit.

The two were forced to miss the entire Grand Prix season after Virtue needed surgery to relieve severe pain in her shins, caused by chronic exertional compartment syndrome, a condition that stems from overtraining.

Neither could train and they competed in only four events. Despite the lack of ice time, the Canadians edged Davis and White off the podium by a .04-point margin in Los Angeles last March.

"To be able to pull it together on such little training and to be able to get to that mentally, as well as [being able to perform] physically, is a great advantage for us," Virtue said. "I remember thinking, 'If we can get through this we can get through almost anything.' "

Moir believes the frustration from a year ago makes them more formidable.

"We had no business being there [at the worlds]," he said. "We hadn't done anything. To look back [now] it's like, 'Wow, we can do that?' It really helps us. We feel like we can perform under any circumstances. [It was a big] learning step."

By this point, the smile had returned.