Moir, Virtue on top

KATHY RUMLESKI -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 12:09 PM ET

Tessa Virtue of London and Scott Moir of Ilderton have skyrocketed to the top of the junior ice dance world.

They have won two International Skating Union junior Grand Prix events, including one last weekend in Montreal.

That qualifies them for the Grand Prix final next month in the Czech Republic. They also hope to compete at the junior worlds in March in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

They've come a long way in two years.

In January 2003, they placed seventh at the Canadian figure skating championship in junior dance, but they won the hearts of the audience.

The petite duo -- 14 and 16 at the time -- performed a lively mambo free dance that captivated the Saskatoon crowd.

It was the beginning of something special for the partners.

On a rare break from skating, the pair came home after the Montreal victory for some family time before a return to training in Canton, Mich.

Virtue recalled the standing ovation two years ago: "That was an awesome time in Saskatoon. It was a really great moment for us. It was nice to . . . entertain the audience. It was a confidence booster."

The skaters, who have competed together since 1997, learned a lot from that event.

"We were the smallest team by far and we learned . . . to skate like senior-level skaters," Virtue said.

They continue to try to make themselves look large, said Moir, who is about five-foot seven. Virtue is about five-foot-four.

"We're trying to be bigger and more dynamic as skaters because we're not very big people. We're trying to show a bigger line . . . and show that we can be as powerful as a big team can be," Moir said.

Virtue and Moir have new programs this year. They skate to Beautiful Maria by the Mambo Kings and music from the Dirty Dancing soundtrack in their original dance. Their free dance is to Malaguena, a Spanish flamenco.

"Igor (Shpilband), our coach, brought (the flamenco) to us and felt it would be a great piece for us. It's a modern version of the classical piece and Scott and I really liked it," Virtue said.

Moir said their new material was necessary because the two have matured as skaters and needed something different to work with.

"These programs really challenge us and really push us to be better. Hopefully that shows to the judges and the spectators."

He said their strength is intricate footwork, but that's just one aspect of a program.

"In dance, you really have to be strong in everything if you want to be the best."

They hope to be the best at the junior level internationally and the senior level nationally.

In January, they'll compete as seniors at the nationals in Ottawa.

"Nationally, we just want to go there and show what we've been working on," Moir said.

Virtue said if they place first or second at the nationals, they have a chance to compete at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, Italy, but "it's really a stretch."

"We're not expecting that."

Moir agreed: "Junior worlds is our focus for this year."


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