Virtue, like Rochette, has overcome

By

VANCOUVER — When these Olympic Games took a second tragic turn Sunday morning, London, Ont. ice dancer Tessa Virtue was there, at ground zero.

She was there, at six in the morning, when her friend and roommate, Joannie Rochette, was told that her mom had died hours earlier at Vancouver General Hospital.

And she has been there for Rochette since, helping her friend cope with the loss.

Rochette, the defending world silver medallist in women’s singles, has demonstrated amazing bravery in continuing on at these Games.

But so, too, has Virtue.

Just hours after waking up to the worst kind of news, Virtue was on the ice at the Pacific Coliseum with her long-time partner, Scott Moir, winning the original dance competition, ahead of Grand Prix champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. and defending world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia.

A huge achievement at the best of times.

And these aren’t the best of times.

The Canadian team has largely been a bust in Vancouver and the Own the Podium program has become a sad joke.

Yet Virtue, 20, and Moir, 22, rose to the occasion, winning the gold medal Monday night, scoring 110.42 for their freedance, skated to Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.

Skating after Davis and White, who recorded a season-best 107.19 points for their Phantom of the Opera free dance, Virtue and Moir were greeted with a huge cheer from the crowd and skated as if they knew the gold medal was their destiny.

All their major elements, particularly their synchronized twizzle, rotational lift and their patented straight line lift, known as The Goose, were essentially perfect.

And when the music stopped, the young team received a standing ovation from the crowd that continued until it was time for the scores. As he approached the kiss-and-cry area, Moir lunged over the boards to hug one of his coaches, Marina Zoueva.

As they waited for the scores, the crowd began to chant “Canada! Canada! Canada!” — something that has been heard with surprising infrequency at these Games.

And they received 110.42 points for the freedance, for a total of 221.57, which kept them ahead of the Americans and put the pressure squarely on the Russians, Domnina and Shabalin.

Skating to the Double Life of Veronique, the defending world champions also won over the crowd with an excellent free dance. But as they waited in the kiss-and-cry area, their mood was decidedly more low-key than the Canadians, as if they knew the gold was lost.

Domnina and Shabalin were rewarded with a freedance score of 101.04, a season’s best. But not good enough. Their total score of 207.64 kept them in the third.

The young Canadian team had won the gold.

Despite their age, Virtue and Moir were expected to win a medal here in Vancouver, based on the silver they won at the 2008 world championships in Gothenburg, Sweden and the bronze last year in Los Angeles.

But nobody pegged them to be in first place heading into Monday night’s freedance. Especially with Virtue skating with such a heavy heart.

And nobody expected them walk away with the gold medal.

A gold medal that just may be a turning point for the Canadian team in Vancouver.

And a gold medal that hopefully brought a smile to Rochette’s face.

steve.buffery@sunmedia.ca


MORE FROM STEVE BUFFERY

POLL