GANGNEUNG, Korea, Republic Of – It’s about both the chance at an Olympic gold medal, and about writing the final chapter of their distinguished careers together.
Canada’s top figure skaters didn’t blink about the prospect of doubling their workload to compete in the team event at the Pyeongchang Olympics.
And so moments after three-time world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir kept Canada’s grip on gold with a solid short dance Sunday, the veteran ice dancers talked about the privilege of skating on Olympic ice with the rings under their blades, and the rare experience of sharing it with teammates.
“You just don’t get too many shots at an Olympic medal, let alone an Olympic gold medal,” Moir said. “And I think Canada has a great chance, and I think we’re a great skating country, the choreographers, the coaches, the skaters that have come from our country are second to none, and I think it’s very important for us to win this event.”
Dressed in dazzling black and gold, Virtue and Moir scored 80.51 points for their short dance to the Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil,” “Hotel California” by the Eagles and Santana’s “Oye Como Va.”
Their score, about two points off their season’s best, had Moir’s brows furrowed in a frown in the kiss and cry, but the 30-year-old from Ilderton, Ont., said that’s the bonus of giving their programs a test run in the team event before they go for individual gold next week.
“I think it does say that it’s a tough panel,” Moir said. “But that’s a good sign. This is the Olympic Games. You’re looking for the harshest panel, especially when you’re going to have the best field that we’ve had in four years.
“What an advantage to get these calls now,” he added. “Also, to be on Olympic ice, the energy in this building, being part of team Canada, what an experience for us. The calls are important, but we just need to learn from them, that’s the biggest thing.”
Kaetlyn Osmond of Marystown, N.L., scored 71.38 to finish third in the women’s short program, and her eight points was enough to keep Canada in the lead with 35 points overall.
Then two-time world pairs champs Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford did their free skate to Adele’s “Hometown Glory,” scoring 148.51 and adding 10 to Canada’s cumulative score to bring it up to 45 by the end of the day.
Olympic Athletes from Russia sat second at 39 and the United States were third at 36.
Virtue and Moir’s top rivals Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron – they edged the Canadians for gold at the Grand Prix Final in December – didn’t skate for France in the short dance, and because the bottom five teams are eliminated after the short programs, the French won’t move on.
“Surprised? Yes,” Virtue said on the absence of the French skaters, who train at the same Montreal rink and share the same coaches in Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.
“Just because we’re clearly such different competitors, we were so eager to get on the ice as many times as possible,” she added. “If we could compete 10 times here at the Olympics, we would be thrilled to do so. But we respect their strategy.”
The team event made its Olympic debut to mixed reviews four years ago in Sochi, where Canada captured silver.
Four years later, the event is one of Canada’s best hopes for a gold on the ice in Pyeongchang. Canada’s team from Sochi has remained virtually intact, and they arrived in South Korea as the world’s No. 1-ranked team.
“We’ve talked about how we weren’t really thrilled with our approach in Sochi,” Moir said. “Some team members thought it was a dress rehearsal, others were trying to go after it and win that gold medal, and we had our signals crossed. It didn’t work out for us.
“This time the goal is clearly to win. Our goal is to have our best skates . . . and to experience that as a team and have all that emotion could be really special.”
Virtue and Moir’s gold in 2010 in Vancouver was Canada’s last Olympic victory in figure skating.
Much like golf’s Ryder Cup, the world’s top 10 countries compete in the short program of all four disciplines. Their teammates cheer them on from rinkside boxes. Five countries are then eliminated before the free skate.
Canada took a three-point lead over the United States into Day 2 of the team event, with Japan just a point behind the Americans.
The team event ends Sunday with the men’s, women’s, and ice dance free programs.