Canada’s Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir keep eyes on the prize at hometown figure skating worlds
‘It seems like we're the luckiest kids ever. … to have a hometown worlds is a pretty rare opportunity for athletes like us’
LONDON, Ont. — It has happened, back in the early days, in places like Stockholm, Vienna, Bratislava, Oslo, London, Paris and Budapest, to skaters named Gillis Grafstrom, Herma Szabo, Sonja Henie, Cecilia Colledge, Jacqueline du Bief, Emmerich Danzer and Ondrej Nepela.
But only once in what would be considered figure skating’s modern era has an absolute local enjoyed home-ice advantage, fully exploited and crowned by a world title.
That was Irina Slutskaya’s 2005 gold in Moscow. And we’re guessing most Muscovites didn’t notice.
Fair to say, then, that no host community of a world figure skating championships has ever been as wholly invested in a potential champion as London — the other London — this week with the homegrown dance team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
And somehow, the two-time world and 2010 Olympic champs have to shut out the friends and neighbours, relatives and well-wishers and keep their eyes on the prize in a city where they can’t take two steps in any direction without running into someone who’s had, or wants, a piece of their lives.
History suggests home ice has not been a blessing, but this will be its ultimate test, because no home ice has ever been homier.
“This is our city, this is our venue, this is where we come on Friday nights to watch the (OHL London) Knights,” says Moir, who will usher Virtue onto the ice of Budweiser Gardens on Thursday for the short dance, hoping to hold off, among others, their toughest challengers and Detroit training partners, Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
“It seems like we're the luckiest kids ever. We have a home country Olympic Games and to have a hometown worlds is a pretty rare opportunity for athletes like us. It gives me goosebumps just thinking about it.”
It’s doubtful the crowd will raise the roof the way it did for the Knights’ 2005 Memorial Cup victory over the Rimouski Oceanic, who had a kid named Crosby on their roster. For one thing, the figure skating setup cuts about 2,000 seats out of the hockey capacity of 9,046.
The 23-year-old Virtue says that so far, focusing has not been a large problem.
“We're staying at the hotel and taking the bus,” she said. “Probably actively trying not to go home. We were just mentioning turning our off phones, too.
“Everyone has been extremely respectful. They know we have job to do. But you get that extra smile or wink from volunteers and it’s really special. Everyone’s excited, and we can feel that energy.”
Canada’s probable No. 2 dance team, Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, is coming off a considerable hiatus — Weaver suffered a broken fibula in December and they missed nationals while she made a hasty recovery from surgery to place a plate and five screws into her leg. It’s probably not realistic to expect them to be able to duplicate their fourth-place finish in last year’s worlds.
The third team, Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier — national runners-up in Weaver/Poje’s absence — is competing at worlds for the first time, though Poirier and his former partner Vanessa Crone were at three worlds and the last Olympics.
Virtue and Moir know anything less than a championship here will be a letdown to the crowd, and will set the stage imperfectly for next year’s Olympics in Sochi. They are coming off a second place at the Four Continents in Osaka, where they had to stop in mid-free dance when Virtue suffered a leg cramp.
“We ended up seeing the silver lining,” she said. “We were able to sit down with our team and see where we went off track a little bit (training too hard) ... only because we wanted to push ourselves and we were really emphasizing speed and power. We let that get away from us a bit.”
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