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Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir set national record at Canadian figure skating championships

By Gord Holder, Postmedia Network

Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue. (Tony Caldwell, Ottawa Sun)

Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue. (Tony Caldwell, Ottawa Sun)

OTTAWA - 

Yes, Tessa Virtue really said it.

Virtue really did say that she and Scott Moir were approaching their return to the Canadian Tire National Skating Championships as if they were underdogs “because it feels like we are.

“We have to chase, we have to feel that in our training and practice. We can’t get too comfortable.”

That much is true, but let’s be frank. Underdog status is pretty much impossible for an ice dance team that has won six previous Canadian titles, two world championships and Olympic gold and silver medals.

It certainly was Friday after the short dance portion of the 2017 nationals at TD Place arena, where the Montreal-based athletes from London and Ilderton, Ont., brought spectators to their feet with a sparkling effort that was rewarded with a national-record sum of 84.36 judging points.

Two-time defending champions Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo were second at 78.92, a sliver ahead of Toronto’s Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier (78.15), who had to be at least somewhat satisfied with their creditable performance given that Gilles was still in a somewhat weakened condition after a nasty flu bug kept her in bed and restricted to fluids only on Thursday.

Speaking of energy and related matters, Virtue said Moir said they had to work on controlling theirs in their first nationals since winning their last Canadian title at Ottawa’s Canadian Tire Centre in 2014.

“After our first Olympics,” Moir said, referring to the 2010 Vancouver Games in which they won gold, “I always said we’d never feel pressure again because we had done everything. Boy was I wrong.

“At this stage in our career, especially, some of the younger athletes would look at us and say, ‘Oh, well. They know what they’re doing. They have it covered.’ But I feel more pressure at this nationals that I can ever remember at any of the other 15 previous ones.”

One difference Saturday will be that, as short-program leaders, Virtue and Moir will skate last in the free dance. In other words, Gilles/Poirier and Weaver/Poje won’t have to follow the clear crowd favourites onto the ice in competition, as they did Friday.

“We felt so good and so prepared,” Weaver said. “It was just a matter of maybe attacking (the routine to Michael Jackson songs) too much, and so that kind of threw off the balance.

“It’s obviously a very delicate balance on the ice, and luckily we were able to come together, bring it back those couple of times and still achieve a season’s-best score, which is amazing. We just know how good this program can be, so that’s a little disappointing.”

No other duo was within 15 points of the leading three, so they should be the Canadian ice dance representatives in the world championships in Helsinki in late March and early April.

The questions to be answered include whether Virtue and Moir can reclaim their title after a two-season sabbatical from competition, whether Weaver and Poje can extend their reign to a third year or whether, with the benefit of an additional day of recovery for Gilles, she and Poirier can stage an upset and reach the top of the podium for the first time.

“Every competition is different and this is a special part of our journey because we decided to come back (to competition),” Moir said. “This is on our shoulders. We have a different perspective, but the pressure seems to be higher. But we kind of welcome that.”

The ice dance crown will be the first of four presented on Saturday, followed by those for senior women, pairs and men.

Sunday features a mid-afternoon gala exhibition.

gholder@postmedia.com

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