Ice dancers nail Grand Prix gold

ERIC BENDER -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 6:28 AM ET

Canada's 2004 junior ice dance champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, returned home yesterday after securing their country's first Grand Prix gold medal in their division. During a competition in China on the weekend, Virtue, 15, from London, and Moir, 17, from Ilderton, swept the compulsory, original and free dance components for a solid win over a second-place Russian duo.

The win, coupled with a silver Grand Prix medal in Courcheval, France, in late August, qualifies the duo for the junior ice dancing Grand Prix championship in Helsinki, Finland, in December.

The skaters, who began at the Ilderton Skating Club, are coached near Detroit by Russians Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva.

Yesterday at Ilderton Arena, Virtue and Moir agreed that last week's GP in Harbin, China, was the most exotic of the trips they have made since they started skating together eight years ago.

It was also the first venue in which they didn't eat much because they were leery of Chinese cooking.

"We took along granola bars and soup. There was a McDonald's," Moir said.

"You have to watch what you eat because you can get sick pretty easy."

Today, it's back to Detroit and training in Canton, Mich., on the fringes of Detroit.

"There's a big difference in training with the other skaters that are on the ice with us," Virtue said, adding training also differs in the way they spend their time on the ice and with off-ice ballroom and ballet training.

The Canton centre is the training ground for many of the U.S. and foreign dance and singles skaters.

"The atmosphere is great with the top skaters on the ice," Moir said.

One of Virtue's favourite moves are "twizzles," a difficult rotation that carries them across the ice. They put a lot of them in because they're technically and physically demanding -- elements judges are looking for under the new, more objective judging required in ice dancing, Virtue said.

While exotic venues are old hat for the young couple, they have one venue they are most excited about -- London's John Labatt Centre.

They'll defend their title at the Canadian championships there Jan. 17-23.

"The John Labatt Centre is an awesome place to skate," said Moir.

Fans can also see them in Kitchener during Feb. 28-March 6 when they go to sectional qualifying for the world junior championships.

Virtue and Moir have decided to take their senior test for a chance to skate at the senior level domestically.

"We can still skate junior, but we'll decide what to do after the test," Moir said.

"We'll leave it to our coaches' judgment on that."


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