Skaters lacing up again

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are on top of the world, but it's back to the real world today.

Virtue, 16, from London, and Moir, 18 of Ilderton, return to training in Canton, Mich., fresh from their gold medal in ice dance at the world junior figure skating championships six weeks ago in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

It was the first gold for Canadian ice dancers in the 31-year history of the world junior event and the first gold by Canadians since pairs skaters Barb Underhill and Paul Martini in 1978.

"Anytime we can represent Canada we're so proud, but that medal ceremony was really nice, hearing our national anthem and knowing all our hard work had paid off," Virtue said.

They won silver at the 2005 world juniors.

"This time we knew what we were going there for and what to expect," Moir said. "We just went and had some great skates and had some fun and it worked out."

They finished third at the 2006 Canadian championships in Ottawa in January and narrowly missed making the Olympic team.

They'd beaten silver-medallists Megan Wing and Aaron Lowe in the original and free dances, but lost their Olympic bid in the compulsory dance.

Virtue and Moir were named alternates for Turin, but it would have taken an injury or sickness for them to land a plane ticket to Italy.

"There was a little bit of a letdown because we were training to go to Turin and that's a goal of any athlete, to make the Olympics, but at the same time, it was good to focus on the junior worlds and to get that title," Moir said of their quick shift in focus.

Everyone on the Canadian figure skating scene says Virtue and Moir are a lock to be in Vancouver in 2010 and Virtue said Turin would have been a good experience.

It would have prepared them for the media onslaught all Canadian athletes are sure to face on home soil in 2010 and it would have given them much-needed exposure in front of the international panel of judges.

That's why they're hoping for a couple of senior grand prix assignments later this year, then to have at least a couple world championships before Vancouver because as much as the new scoring system has helped rid the sport of its judging scandals, Virtue said there is still some politics.

"The new scoring system is helping the athletes quite a bit, but there is that politics in our sport and I think there always will be, so to get that exposure is important," she said. "The judging system is helping, but it's there."

The two have been the toast of Ilderton since returning from Slovenia, with a recent reception in their honour.

They'll participate in a fund-raising exhibition for men's skater Christopher Mabee in his hometown of Tillsonburg Saturday.

In the meantime, Moir has been "trying to have a social life for a couple weeks and trying to rest up before getting back at it for another year."

This will be their third season training in Michigan under Russian coaches Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva.

Virtue hasn't had a lot of time to herself. She's busy getting her high school diploma by taking classes in Windsor.

"School is a balancing act," she said. "But I am excited to be back in school -- I was taking correspondence before.

"I skate in the mornings, then it's off to school, then back to Michigan for ballet in the afternoon."

Moir said although the world juniors weren't the Olympics, the gold medal is still an honour.

"Junior worlds is a pretty big thing," he said. "Some of those ladies could have done pretty good at the Olympics."

And from the tumbles in ice dance in Turin, Virtue and Moir might have skated rings around some of that competition.


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