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Scott Moir, Tessa Virtue question coach's loyalty 0

By Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun

SOCHI, Russia - 

They’re one of the world’s top ice-dance teams, but they also became experts at tap dancing around the question of their coach.

As the losses to American arch-rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White began to build this season, Canadian skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir started questioning whether they had the right coach in Marina Zoueva, and whether the coach was favouring her other high-profile team: Davis and White.

It finally reached the point that Virtue and Moir confronted Zoueva to discuss her commitment to them and whether she was doing enough to help them defend their 2010 Olympic gold medal.

“We went to Marina on countless occasions and told her that we weren’t happy and in no way were we going to be happy with a silver medal (in Sochi),” said Moir. “We tried everything. It felt a little bit like we were in quicksand because (the American pair) were getting away from us. I think Marina listened to us and we kind of reshaped some of our program. But she’s an artist as well, so she wanted to stay true to her vision.

“We were both pretty blunt with her in the fall — and even leading up to the Olympics — that we weren’t happy and we felt sometimes that she wasn’t in our corner,” Moir added. “(But) she handled that tremendously well. She’s been with us now for 10 years and I really think that she loves us and she pours her heart into our choreography.”

Still, despite their frustrations leading up to the Games and the fact that the international judges seemed to prefer the programs of Davis and White, not enough was done, obviously, to give Virtue and Moir the winning program for the Sochi Olympics.

As it turned out, Davis and White cruised to the ice-dance gold, easily outscoring Virtue and Moir, despite the fact that both teams seemed to skate excellent programs. There were some suggestions that the American team’s programs were simply more appealing than the Canadian’s — and it was Zoueva who choreographed both.

The disenchantment began to build for Virtue and Scott as the Olympic approached.

“We had some odd things happen this year that haven’t happened before, we expected that Marina would march with us (in the opening ceremony) and be with our team like she was in Vancouver,” said Moir. “It was a tough pill to swallow and also not being at our national championships for the first time in our whole career was odd. But as Tessa said, we’re mature enough to handle that.”

At the end of the day, Virtue and Moir said they don’t want to sound like they’re blaming Zoueva for their loss here in Sochi.

“She’s given us a lot of great things in our career,” said Moir. “This wasn’t a failure; this was a successful Games for us. We don’t look back on this and think we made a mistake by not switching coaches, for sure.

“She’s not in an easy position,” he added. “My mum’s a coach and she always says to me, ‘She can't win no matter’ ... Well, she does win no matter what, but there’s always an angry set of parents and an angry set of skaters after every competition.”

There were whispers all through the Olympic ice-dancing competition that the judges were favouring the Americans, including a media report that there was a deal in place between the Americans and Russians to prop up Davis and White — but nothing that’s been proven.

Still, fans and experts alike were angry at some of the lowball marks awarded Virtue and Moir in the short and free dance and many considered the outcome predetermined.

“The predetermined question ... it is too bad that seems to be the headline no matter what. Although we don’t mind it particularly in this case,” said Moir. “But I think it’s sad that when you watch someone have a good race automatically your mind goes to: ‘Oh, are they doping or was that predetermined?’ And I would hope and think everybody involved in the Olympics has to make the effort to rid sport of those things.

“I think at the end of the day, we had a great forum for us to go out there and perform and it didn’t go our way,” added Moir. “But I don’t think the judging was predetermined. It’s just the way the cookie crumbled, I guess.”

WOMEN READY TO GO

Perhaps the most hotly contested figure skating event at these Olympics will be women’s singles, which begins Wednesday with the short program.

A buzz has been building for days in anticipation of the event, which will feature defending champion Yuna Kim of South Korea and sensational Russian upstart Julia Lipnitskaia, who helped lift the Russians to the gold medal in the team competition.

But it’s far from just Kim, who was coached by Canada’s Brian Orser to her gold medal in Vancouver, and European champion Lipnitskaia, who will be in the running for a medal at the Iceberg Skating Palace this week.

Italy’s Carolina Kostner, the 2012 world champion and five-time European champion, is still a force, as is Japan’s Mao Asada, a two-time world champion and silver medallist from Vancouver. Other contenders include Adelina Sotnikova from Russia, Japan’s Akiko Suzuki and Americans Ashley Wagner and Gracie Gold.

Canada has two entries in the field, Canadian champion Kaetlyn Osmond, 18, who finished eighth at last year’s worlds, and 16-year-old rising star Gabrielle Daleman of Newmarket.

Kim, 23, is looking to become only the third skater to win back-to-back women’s Olympic singles titles.

Asada will again attempt her triple axel at these Games. She became only the fourth female skater in history to land one and become the first woman to land three of them in one competition at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics.

“I will attempt the triple axel once in the short and once in the free,” she said. “There is some risk involved with the axel, but I want to do it. I did it twice in Vancouver (in the free) but I’m only doing it once in Sochi. I just don’t feel like I need to do it twice.”

Because the women’s event is the last on the Olympic schedule, many of the competitors, including Osmond and Daleman, left Sochi for a few days to get away from the hustle and bustle and concentrate on extra training. Kostner went to her training base in Oberstdorf, Germany, while Osmond and Daleman went to Mannheim, Germany, after the team competition. Gold also travelled west, to Graz, Austria, for a few days of training in solitude.

“We had three-hour training days, which is a lot different than having 45 minutes (in Sochi) and being around all this,” said Gold, the American champion. “It’s a little different to be on a rink with nobody else watching.”

Asada and Suzuki went to Armenia to train, while Lipnitskaia returned to her training base in Moscow.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca

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