Future looks golden for duo

RYAN PYETTE -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:25 AM ET

London's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir from Ilderton could take over the Canadian senior ice dance scene sooner than expected.

After wrapping up their third national title yesterday to close out the Canadian figure skating championships at the John Labatt Centre, veteran dance stars Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon announced they plan to call it quits after the 2006 season.

The dazzling duo wants to compete at next year's Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy, then say goodbye at the 2006 world championships in Calgary.

"I think so," Dubreuil, 30, said. "There's a lot of great, young skaters coming up in Canada. It would be perfect timing for everyone."

The time would be right because the crowd-pleasing combo of Moir, 17, and Virtue, 15, are clearly prepared to start winning medals at the national senior level.

The skaters wowed the hometown crowd with a stunning free skate that earned them fourth-place marks (184.35) behind Dubreuil-Lauzon (217.54), Megan Wing-Aaron Lowe (194.59) and Chantal Lefebvre-Arseniy Markov (188.08).

Virtue and Moir (95.67) actually beat the much older Lefebvre-Markov (93.01) in the free dance. The younger pair is used to performing three-minute programs at the junior level, but added an extra minute to their routine for the senior competition and didn't break a sweat.

"They have some things you can't teach," said longtime dance guru Igor Shpilband, who currently coaches the Virtue-Moir team along with Marina Zoueva at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Detroit.

"A skate like that would put them on top of the podium at junior worlds. There's no one in the world in junior who would be able to touch that.

"There's a lot of senior skaters who couldn't, either."

The junior world championships will be held in Kitchener on Feb. 28-March 6. Virtue and Moir plan to jump up from last year's 11th-place finish.

At the junior Grand Prix final in Finland last month, the ice dancers finished second. Following yesterday's skate, they are now considered gold-medal favourites.

"Definitely, we want to improve on it. Everything was new last year," Virtue said.

"This was such a great experience because we got to watch the other great skaters. We learned a lot from this."

Virtue and Moir also learned to handle the pressure of skating in front of the home crowd at a national event.

"It was amazing all week," Moir said. "It's awesome to have everyone behind you like that."

"You can't get tired when they're cheering like that," Virtue grinned.

Shpilband said that as Moir and Virtue's profile grows, the ice dancers will encounter more attention from fans wherever they appear.

"It was tremendous for them to skate with that kind of support at home," he said. "But it's not just here. They're getting to be well-known internationally. They were very well-received at the Cup of China, and the crowd loved them in Helsinki at the junior Grand Prix final."

Because Lefebvre's Russian partner, Markov, is still ineligible to compete for Canada, there is a chance that Virtue and Moir could be bumped up to Canada's Four Continents team.

The event will be in South Korea Feb. 14-19 and it's customary for Skate Canada to send its top three finishers at the nationals.

Chief executive Pam Coburn said the team should be revealed by Wednesday.

"We'll have to talk about that first (if Virtue and Moir are named)," Zoueva said. "We have to see what's best for them."


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