Virtue, Moir sizzling in front

STEVE GREEN

, Last Updated: 9:11 AM ET

With all of the attention being focused on the hometown favourites, it would be easy to forget there are 14 other couples competing in the ice dance at the BMO Canadian figure skating championships.

A few did their best to state their case last night at the John Labatt Centre in the original dance.

As expected, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of London wowed the crowd, scoring an incredible 70.15 points to take an overwhelming lead into today's free skate with 114.13 total points, making them a virtual lock to compete in the Winter Olympics next month. But the second berth in Vancouver is very much up for grabs.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo are second with 94.79 points, just two-hundredths of a point ahead of Vanessa Crone of Aurora and Paul Poirier of Toronto. Both couples also skated flawless routines.

"We've put in all the work we can," said Weaver, a native of Houston, Tex. "We couldn't have put in any more. Now it's just a matter of going out (today) and performing like we know how. We couldn't ask for anything more, really. We came in as the underdogs -- we were third last year by a big margin and we've made up that ground."

"We don't want to hold back," Poje added. "We don't want to be doing any 'what-ifs.' "

"We did what we came here to do," Crone said. "Getting to the Olympics would be special, but if we skate three programs like we know how, we'll still be happy."

It's bad enough having to compete with a couple as hot as Virtue and Moir are right now without having to take them on in their own back yard. Yet that doesn't seem to faze their nearest competitors.

"It's motivating because Tessa and Scott are such good role models," Poirier said. "We're all god friends and we're happy for each other and hopefully one day we'll be where they are."

Added Poje: "We definitely have our own fight to worry about (for second) and we use the energy in the building as a positive. It helps you perform."

And perform is what Virtue and Moir did, with their flamenco-themed routine bringing the crowd to its feet.

"It doesn't even feel like the same program at Skate Canada," Moir said.

"That wasn't one of our better skates, but tonight we really put that up there and executed so well. But in a month's time we'll look back and say it was better at the Olympics."

Even though they took a 6.7-point lead into it, there was no letup from the duo in the original dance because there can't be in Vancouver.

"At the Olympics, there's no room for error," Moir said.

"You have to skate your best for all three programs. So this is perfect practice."

steve.green@sunmedia.ca

And being the heavy crowd favourite won't be any different at the Games, either.

"We're using this as a tuneup," Virtue said. "The pressure's there and we feel it, but we're using it as a positive. We feel so lucky and fortunate to have all that support."

The African-themed performance by Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill of Toronto also drew a standing ovation and vaulted them from ninth after the compulsory dance to fifth with 84.20 points. Sarah Arnold of Mississauga and Justin Trojek of St. Thomas sit 11th with 67.72.

steve.green@sunmedia.ca


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