WINDSOR - The Battle of the Carmens, ice dance edition, just got more spicy in a hurry.
Olympic and two-time world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir finished just one-hundredth of a point ahead of Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte in their Skate Canada International short program Friday night at the WFCU Centre.
Both teams will skate to one of figure skating's legendary themes – Carmen – in their long program on Saturday evening.
The Italians are guided by Igor Shpilband, no longer helping Virtue and Moir after a June split with his former coaching half Marina Zoueva, who is still overseeing the Canadians.
“We definitely feel like we left some points on the table,” Moir, the 25-year-old Ilderton, Ontario, native, said after a 65.09-point outing. “We were surprised (by some of their marks). It's up to our coach now to do her homework and figure out where (they can improve.) The skate felt good but it's our first time out. That's why we used Finland as our starting point (in the past ahead of Skate Canada).”
They couldn't this time because Moir hurt his neck on a rotational lift in practice right before they were due to depart on the plane for Europe. It's the same late element they struggled with on Friday, though Moir said there was no hesitation at all in the heat of the moment.
“It just didn't go as well as we practised,” Moir said.
He also indicated it's a lift they have been thinking about taking out of the program. This might have been its swan song.
Worrying about the raw numbers is something they're trying to take to the curb.
“We want to go in with the mentality of not necessarily defending,” Virtue, the 23-year-old Londoner said, “but staying on offence and keep moving forward. It's easy to get wrapped up in that feeling of wanting to hold onto that title.
“I know last year in the fall and heading into and at the Grand Prix final, we got too caught up in marks and placements and we learned from that.”
This wasn't a Patrick Chan, Japan Open-style “slap in the face”, but it will be disconcerting if they don't win Saturday with a cushion.
At least they're ahead. Chan has to launch another come-from-behind effort.
He rallied from third spot last year to win Skate Canada. He's second this time behind the same rival – Spaniard Javier Fernandez and his ‘Mask of Zorro’ short program.
The five-time Canadian champ popped his opening quad and finished with 82.52 points, over three points back heading into Saturday night.
“It's the first time ever,” the 21-year-old Toronto native said of bowing out of the biggest jump. “I can't remember ever popping a quad. Like I always say, the jumps are the jumps. It was a lack of speed coming in. Kathy and Eddie (new coaches Kathy Johnson and Eddie Shiptstad) and I talked about it. More speed, more speed.
“I should be strong enough to get that speed.”
He touched down on a triple Axel, too.
This wasn't the kind of response expected after Chan's eyebrow-raising opener where he fell four times in Japan a few weeks back.
He didn't rain down fire and brimstone from the top of the mountain on the rest of the field.
Instead, Chan mentioned the word “intimidated” again, just like he did after encountering well-prepared Russian comeback star Evgeni Plushenko and home country hero Daisuke Takahashi in Japan.
“It's a learning experience,” he said. “There are still some things, even after four, five years out here, I can learn from.”
This looks like another one.
Chan came back to win Skate Canada last year. He won everything in his 2011-12 season, including the Japan Open.
He hasn't lost any sense of humour. He was handed a microphone while a group of media crowded around him waiting for his assessment of his performance.
“I'm not going to start doing karaoke,” he quipped.
In pairs, Canadian champs Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford, fifth at worlds last spring, trail heavy favourites Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy by nearly eight points.