Virtue, Moir alter routine

RYAN PYETTE, QMI AGENCY

, Last Updated: 10:16 AM ET

The Goose, in its original form, is cooked.

Ice dance stars Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue were forced to alter their breathtaking touchless lift with the clearly Canadian nickname -- a major highlight in their striking free dance -- or risk getting docked points that could cost them dearly when they get to the Olympics in Vancouver next month.

The high-risk move, which involves Virtue balancing one of her surgically-repaired shins on Moir's back, had been flagged at the Grand Prix Final in Tokyo because of a perceived over-rotation on her dismount.

They'll unveil Goose Version 2.0 Saturday night during their free skate to Mahler's Fifth Symphony on home ice to cap what they hope will be a third straight national title.

"We were made aware there could be a potential deduction for (the Goose) so we made the change and we've been working on it the past week-and-a-half," Virtue, the 20-year-old London native, said. "It's not as fun as it was."

"If you can tell us what's illegal about it, please come tell me because we'd like to know," Moir, the 22-year-old from Ilderton, added.

There's no such concerns over their compulsory dance.

Moir and Virtue scored 43.98 points - best in the world since 2005 according to International Skating Union archives - to kick off the 2010 BMO Canadian figure skating championships before more than 4,600 last night at the John Labatt Centre.

Their Tango Romantica, the dastardly dance that cost them big at the Turin Olympic trials in 2006, provided, this time, a roaring start.

"We had something to prove with the tango," Virtue said with a grin. "Coming up, our compulsories were always the ones that we struggled with.

"It's great to get off to a good start, just like it will be in Vancouver."

Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier (37.27) are in second spot. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje are third (36.87).

The Olympic compulsory dance draw is around the corner. The tango could be on the menu.

"It's Feb. 4," Moir said, "not that I'm waiting on it or anything like that."

The original dance goes today at 4:55 p.m.

After that, it's Goose time.

Now, the move isn't like the Duchesnays of the past thumbing their nose at the crusty, old-guard ice dance world with their cheeky innovations.

Moir and Virtue are gold medal contenders in Vancouver and Canada's best hope in figure skating.

And the Goose, as beautiful as it flew in its original form, wasn't worth the risk.

"The rules are the rules and that's why we have them in the sport," Skate Canada high performance director Mike Slipchuk said. "We were told by the (ISU) technical committee that they could be docked for it, that it could be interpreted a different way.

"But that's why we send our skaters out to skate (on international assignments). We want that feedback and better to have it now where changes can be made than to find out after arriving at the Olympics in a month."

Tracy Wilson, CBC's figure skating commentator, found herself and Rob McCall in the same sort of Goose noose heading to the 1988 Olympics in Calgary. They got some late feedback regarding riskiness in their program, made the changes before Canadians, and wound up skated to Olympic bronze.

"If there's a risk or any doubt, then you make the change "no questions," Wilson said. "There's a fear it could be interpreted by some judges as an over-rotatation and you'd rather get marked plus-one, plus-two instead of zero for it.

"You have to maximize those points. That could be the difference between first and fourth (in Vancouver).

"And to tell you the truth, I like this version they have now. In these situations, I usually squawk about it but then, the change is made and often, I'll like it better than the original.

"It's still a beautiful lift."

Though they're able to sleep in their own beds at home this week, Moir and Virtue opted to check into a hotel. They wanted to make sure they treated their sixth senior nationals for what it is the last dry run before Vancouver.

In B.C., the battle for Olympic gold could very well boil down to who is the best ice dance team training at the Arctic Edge ice Arena in Canton, Mich.

One of Moir-Virtue's coaches Marina Zoueva is with them here in London. The other Igor Shpilband has accompanied club mates Charlie White and Meryl Davis at the United States figure skating championships in Spokane, Wash.

The two teams could end up one-two on the podium at Vancouver's Pacific Coliseum.

"We've known them for so long,"ĘVirtue said, "and we all support each other. We're like family. We want the best skates for one another."

"There's no rivalry," Moir said, "although everyone's always trying to make it out like there's one."

O.K., so there's a small rivalry but it goes back to when Moir skated with a stick in has hand, not with Virtue by his side.

"I was talking to Charlie one night and I was telling him how when I played hockey, I never lost to an American team," Moir said. "So I started telling about when I was eight-years-old, we had this bench-clearing brawl (or whatever you call an eight-year-old donnybrook) against a team from Michigan and as I kept talking, his eyes got wider and he said, 'I was on that other team.'

"Of course, I was out there on the ice mixing it up and he stayed on the bench. Sissy."

There won't be any fisticuffs in Vancouver. But there's going to be a lot of pressure on both teams.

"Scott and Tessa show very little weakness," Wilson said, "and to me, that absence of weakness technically and artistically is what makes an Olympic champion.

"They're definitely going to be in the gold medal hunt. I think they're great for our sport."

And the Goose, no matter how revamped, could still send them soaring to the greatest of heights.


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