Virtue-Moir dazzle at figure skating nationals

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir announced their return to the Canadian figure skating championships with hip-swivelling, funky short program that had the crowd whistling from the opening few Prince lyrics.

By the time they struck their final pose, the TD Place Arena crowd in Ottawa was on its feet, showing how sorely the duo was missed.

Virtue and Moir, who have made a stunning return after a two-year hiatus, are the leaders after Friday’s short dance at the Canadian figure skating championships. Virtue, dressing in a backless cat suit with a purple Prince-inspired neck ruffle, and Moir, dressed all in black, scored 84.36 points for their program to a medley by the late pop star.

“I’m so happy that people do enjoy it,” Virtue said of the energetic program. “It’s hard for us to tell because we tend to sort of block everything out. Prince does that, so appealing across every generation, it’s hard not to love his music, so that really sets the tone.

“Maybe part of that is that we have so much fun performing it. We’re just going to continue to make it sharper with more impact.”

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., were second with 78.92, and take a narrow lead over Piper Gilles of Toronto and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., into Saturday’s free dance. Gilles bounced back after spending Thursday in bed with the flu. She and Poirier scored 78.15.

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Kaetlyn Osmond finished first in the women’s short program Friday at the national figure skating championships in Ottawa. (Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press)

Kaetlyn Osmond set the standard in the women’s singles short program.

The 21-year-old from Marystown, N.L., landed three huge triple jumps en route to 81.01 points to take the lead into the free program.

Gabrielle Daleman of Newmarket, Ont., scored 75.04 for second, while last year’s champion Alaine Chartrand of Brockville, Ont., was third.

Virtue and Moir stepped away from competition after their second-place finish at the Sochi Olympics, and return this season in their quest to reclaim the Olympic crown they won in 2010 in Vancouver.

They vowed to keep pushing the ice dance envelope, and their short dance certainly does that. The pace from the opening notes is like a 100-metre sprint, before the tone turns sultry during the middle portion to Prince’s “5 Women.”

Moir said like nothing they’ve skated before, because “we are shot out of a cannon so hard at the beginning and then have to find a different energy for the second minute of the program. It’s a challenge, we really like it.”

The 29-year-old Moir said the pressure is surprisingly heavy in Ottawa, despite their nearly two decades of competing together.

“It’s funny, after our first Olympics, I felt like we’d never feel pressure again, because we’d done everything. Boy was I ever wrong,” he said. “I think at this stage of our career, especially some of the younger athletes would look at us and be ‘They know what they’re doing, they have it covered.’ But I feel more pressure at this nationals than I can ever remember in any of the 15 prior ones.

‘Different perspective’

“This is a special part of our journey because we decided to come back. This is more on our shoulders, we have a different perspective. Pressure seems to be higher. But we kind of welcome that. I guess my roundabout answer is we feel it’s a completely different nationals than any one we’d ever had before.”

Virtue, a 27-year-old from London, Ont., added: “Mentally we’re still approaching everything like we’re the underdogs because we feel like we are. We have to chase, we have to feel that in training and practice, we can’t get too comfortable.”

Gilles, meanwhile, made a remarkable comeback after missing Thursday’s practice sessions.

“I think this is just training, I kind of let my body do what it’s told, muscle memory really comes into play for days like this,” she said. “I definitely don’t feel 100 per cent, I’m really tired.”

“I’m out of up-chuck territory, you’re good,” she added to reporters, with a laugh. “Today’s a good solid food day. Enough to get me through my program so I’m grateful for that.”

The women’s singles event will offer arguably the toughest competition of the four disciplines this week. Canada has just two entries each in women’s and men’s singles at the world championships in Helsinki in March, and Osmond, Daleman and Chartrand have been slugging it out for past few years, swapping spots on the national podium.

“It’s great motivation,” said Osmond, who was third last season and didn’t make the team for the world championships in Boston.

“I want to compete well against them, obviously last year missing my world spot was really hard for me and I don’t want to feel that way this year, so having that really tight competition is really helping me stay on top of my game, and really reminding me that I need to focus really hard on doing what I can do and doing it the best I can.”

Canada has three entries in Helsinki in both ice dance and pairs.

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