Virtue, Moir music to eyes

RYAN PYETTE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 10:46 AM ET

KITCHENER -- It's possible, Kurt Browning said, to watch a figure skating program for the first time and believe it's the one that will win Olympic gold.

Even before the warts are removed.

Even with the kinks yet to be ironed out and the final product still aching to be massaged.

When ice dance champs Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue unlocked their Olympic free dance before the season, Browning and other skate scholars realized they weren't just getting caught up in the melodic strains of Gustav Mahler's Fifth Symphony.

They were seeing those old Olympic images.

Torvill and Dean again.

The spirit of Brian Boitano.

A little bit of Tara Lipinski, too.

The forged-and-poured foundation for a great Olympic skate in Vancouver.

"People want to see something they'll remember forever," Browning said yesterday ahead of the Skate Canada International Grand Prix stop which starts today at the Kitchener Memorial Auditorium. "Especially in an Olympic year, they want the speech at the wedding. That signature moment you'll never forget."

Moir, from Ilderton, and Londoner Virtue will again engage the audience at the Aud, where they used to spend so many Fridays training.

Their pre-Olympic stag-and-doe will be back home at the Canadian championships Jan. 14-17 at the John Labatt Centre.

Then, it's time to head west for the ice dance altar ready to utter those golden "I do's."

The faith and belief started a long time ago.

"When I hear (favourites for gold), I say, 'finally,' " the 22-year-old Moir said. "We've wanted to be the best ice dancers in the world and we think we're there. That's what we've always worked towards."

There is usually a magic moment for a skate team when they latch onto the program that fits them best. Last year, Moir-Virtue opted for Pink Floyd in an off-the-wall kind of way.

It was fun and different.

But for the Olympic year, co-coach Marina Zoueva wanted the duo to go back to playing up their strengths.

Beauty and romance.

Heart-wrenching, tear-jerking, awe-inspiring.

Power and speed.

They won in Paris. They're piling up points.

It has put to rest questions of Virtue's sabbatical for shin surgery last year.

"That's so 2008," she said as Moir laughed.

Everyone knows they have tapped into something special.

"The response we've heard from the judges so far (on their free dance) tell us they've overwhelmingly chosen to go in the right direction," Skate Canada director of high performance Michael Slipchuk said.

Moir and Virtue missed the Turin Games in 2006 by one spot. Skate Canada has paraded in a lot of old Olympians -- Liz Manley, Brian Orser, Tracy Wilson, even skier Brian Stemmle and rower Marnie McBean -- to talk to a young team about getting ready for the Olympic craziness.

"It's the same question -- is a child ready for Grade 1," Browning said. "Who knows? It's just their time and they have to go and experience it for themselves and that's when we'll see.

"If they're ready, they're ready.

"I think this group is ready for good things."

Moir and Virtue should lead the charge.

They're a long way from those three years of 4 a.m. commutes from London to Waterloo for training sessions.

"We'd sleep the whole way and we'd both pop up at the same time three seconds from the rink and be ready to go," Virtue said. "We were lucky to have parents to do the commute.

"We were too young to drive."

Now, they see themselves in the ice dance driver's seat.

"When you find that program that fits you," Virtue said, "you still go to sleep at night and run through your mind what you have to do.

"You dream about skating it at the Olympics."

And do they end up on top of the podium in Vancouver?

"Absolutely," Moir said.

Every time.

ryan.pyette@sunmedia.ca


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