April 30, 2011
No silver linings for Virtue and Moir
By Ryan Pyette, QMI Agency
The first thing to understand about Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir is they didn’t make it to the world figure skating championships in Moscow to finish second.
There’s a massive moral victory in it for the Canadian ice dancers, of course, considering Virtue’s second surgery on her legs six months ago, their inability to compete all season and their own coach’s advice to skip the competition, shut it down and start fresh again for 2012.
But silver linings are not what Virtue, the 21-year-old Londoner, and Moir, the 23-year-old from Ilderton, are about anymore.
They established the discipline’s gold standard with their Olympic win in Vancouver last year and the subsequent world championships in Turin, Italy.
But suddenly, that aura of invincibility is gone after surrendering top spot in a shocking defeat to American training mates Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who delivered the United States its first world title in the 59-year history of ice dance at Megasport Arena.
Virtue and Moir led after Friday’s short program and racked up 181.79 overall points thanks to Saturday’s sensational Latin-themed free dance, the first time they were able to complete it in international competition this year.
It still wasn’t enough.
Skating last, Davis and White scored 185.27 overall and surpassed their rivals and friends by three-and-a-half points.
It means there’s been a different world ice dance champion each of the last five years and that’s never happened before. The Canadians now have medals at the last four: a gold, two silvers and a bronze.
Based on their age, talent, chemistry and work ethic, Virtue and Moir were in line to re-establish the kind of dynasty ice dance experienced back in the era of glacial movement atop the world podium.
But even if Virtue avoids injuries moving forward, this defeat puts a major dent in their attempt to match the four straight world titles achieved by the legendary Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean of Great Britain in the early 1980s and Russia’s Pasha Grishuk and Evgeny Platov in the mid-1990s.
And should the Canadians find a way to re-establish their success against Davis and White, the threat of another budding rivalry won’t disappear soon.
The bronze medalists — American siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani — finished atop the podium in their first crack at senior worlds. They are younger even than Virtue and Moir, share the same ice with them and Davis-White at the Arctic Edge facility in Canton, Mich., along with the same coaches Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband.
At a time when Skate Canada’s ice dance depth is through the roof — Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo finished a solid fifth while reigning Canadian champs Vanessa Crone of North York and Paul Poirier of Unionville were 10th — there is reason to be both concerned and encouraged about its gold-medal stars.
The biggest question coming home is how will Virtue-Moir respond to this?
It’s a no-brainer this result will foster a hunger to work even harder, to push the limits of possibility to the brink and funnel their most creative and athletic vision into their future programs.
But it’s also clear, through Virtue’s latest injuries and the valuable competition and practice time robbed from them, they haven’t been able to sufficiently separate themselves from Davis and White yet.
Had the Canadians showed up and won the worlds without any semblance of a normal season, there wouldn’t be any doubt.
But they didn’t do that — and their presence in Russia makes it hard to affix an asterisk to the Davis-White win.
This isn’t hockey where this year’s Stanley Cup winner has to contend with the knowledge that Sidney Crosby never played a playoff game.
Or the last handful of major golf champions, who succeeded while Tiger Woods went through his injury and infidelity woes.
Virtue and Moir still managed to set the competitive bar at worlds. It just wasn’t high enough this time.
For a team where it was believed there was no ceiling, one appeared in a limited season.
Now, the only option is to bust through it once again.