December 7, 2011
Grand finale for Virtue, Moir
By RYAN PYETTE, QMI Agency
So much for finding your feet and easing into a return from a long, drawn-out injury.
Ice dance stars Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have charged headlong back to the top-of-mountain mix after another surgically necessary bout with compartment syndrome in Virtue's legs practically scrubbed their 2010-11 season (though they still managed to finish second at the world championships).
"When you're competitive the way we are, you want to win," Moir said recently. "It's always the goal. There aren't many times we go into a competition where we feel like we shouldn't win."
They surrendered their "unbeatable" label after their forced skating sabbatical. But they announced their rust- and pain-free comeback with a late-October victory at Skate Canada International in Mississauga, then confirmed it by winning again in Paris.
Now they can rise once again this week with a triumph over Canton, Mich., training mates Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States at the International Skating Union Grand Prix Final of figure skating, starting Thursday in Quebec City.
Virtue and Moir can't declare themselves back in the saddle until they beat their American counterparts. Both have won Grand Prix series golds in separate assignments this season. This will be their first head-to-head competition.
The Grand Prix championship has eluded the 22-year-old Virtue of London and Moir, a 24-year-old from Ilderton.
They couldn't qualify last year. They finished second two years ago to Davis and White in Tokyo and in fourth four years back in Turin, Italy.
The Americans have their work cut out for them, too.
Davis and White, the two-time defending Grand Prix champs, have to figure out a way to beat the Canadians on home ice. Virtue and Moir have tradition to uphold; the last two Grand Prix finals held in Canada were won by Shae-Lynn Bourne and Victor Kraatz (2001 in Kitchener and 1996 in Hamilton).
The battle of the current ice dance titans could be the most compelling of the sport's four disciplines in Quebec, which points at worlds in the spring in Nice, France.
The men's crown is for Canadian Patrick Chan to lose. The reigning world champion received a wakeup call in Mississauga when Brian Orser-trained Spaniard Javier Fernandez beat him in the short program, but he bounced back for the win. The vanquished included former world champ Japan's Daisuke Takahashi, who qualified for the final in the No. 2 spot.
Women's skating is not exactly at its zenith these days, in Canada or the rest of the world.
In Mississauga, 14-year-old Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva won her first senior Grand Prix series event, but said then she wouldn't start dreaming about a potential victory in Quebec until she made the grade in Paris.
She won there too, so she can start believing.
Her coach Alexei Mishin, who developed Evgeni Plushenko, has faith. He called the teen, who endured 27-hour train trips from Glazov to St. Petersburg early on for training sessions, Russia's "main hope" for a gold on home ice at Sochi in 2014.
Because of age restrictions, Tuktamysheva isn't allowed to compete at worlds until the 2013 event in London.
No Canadian women qualified in the top six to make the final.
But pair upstarts Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford did by winning two bronze medals and squeaking into the sixth and final spot. No Canadian pair has won a Grand Prix Final medal since Jamie Sale and David Pelletier a decade ago and the northern Ontario veterans will be in tough.
There's a podium tug-of-war brewing between Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy and a couple of Russian teams: Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov; and Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov.
Canadian ice dancers Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje will round out the Canadian squad. They have enjoyed a strong start to the season, punching their tickets for Quebec with three straight silver medals (Skate Canada, NHK Trophy in Japan and the Rostelecom Cup in Russia).
In the junior final, also held in Quebec this weekend, pair Katherine Bobak of Guelph and Scarborough's Ian Beharry represent the lone Canadian entry.
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2010 Grand Prix winners
Men: Patrick Chan, Canada (259.75 points)
Women: Alissa Czisny, United States (180.75)
Pairs: Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy, Germany (210.72)
Ice Dance: Meryl Davis/Charlie White, United States (171.58)
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Favourites at the 2011 ISU Grand Prix Final of figure skating Dec. 8-11 at Quebec’s Pavilion de la Jeunesse at ExpoCite
Patrick Chan, Canada: Reigning world champ has the stuff to bury the field
Daisuke Takahashi, Japan: Missed podium last year on heels of 2010 world title
Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Russia: 14-year-old phenom the best so far
Mao Asada, Japan: Two-time world champ should know what it takes
Aliona Savchenko/Robin Szolkowy, Germany: Three-time world champs have looked sharp
Tatiana Volosozhar/Maxim Trankov, Russia: Top-ranked team in the field
Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Canada: Grand Prix final the only thing they haven’t won
Meryl Davis/Charlie White, U.S.: World champs need to show they’re still in charge