UPDATE: Canadian ice dance duo Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took home the gold medal with a stunning 221.57-point program. The pair inched ahead of their American rivals—and best friends—who took second place with 215.57 points. In the ice dance world, the win is a historic one. Since the sport was invented in 1976, no North American team had ever won gold. Virtue and Moir began skating together when she was seven and he was nine; they were so small that Tessa was able to lift Scott on the ice.
On the ice, they’re fierce rivals; off-ice, they’re the best of friends. Last night, Canada’s ice dance team, Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue faced-off against Americans, Charlie White and Meryl Davis. The two teams train together at the same Canton, Mich., rink, Arctic Edge; they also share the same Russian coaches, Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband. Both Moir and White are ex-hockey players, and fierce fans of the game, who relax together with video games during competitions.
But last night, they were all business, as Virtue and Moir vaulted into first, heading into tonight’s Free Dance final at Vancouver’s Pacific Coliseum; they’ve got an almost three-point lead over their American pals.
The beautiful Canadian duo—who’ve skated together since they were seven and nine—danced a flawless, fiery and emotional flamenco program; with it, they set the stage for Canada’s first figure skating gold medal at the Vancouver Games.
It would mark a major moment for the sport; no North American team has won an Olympic gold since ice dance was introduced in 1976. Russian teams, in fact, have taken seven of the nine gold medals. Russians Maxim Shabalin and Oksana Domnina—the reigning world champions, and gold medal favourites—sit in third, with 106.60 points, almost five points behind the Canadians.
The Russian dancers had grabbed an early lead; last night’s program, however, fell flat. It was met with a kind of stunned silence from the audience at the Pacific Coliseum (with the odd boo ringing out from some corners of the rink). They were dancing a program that won them global infamy last month; at the European championships in Estonia, they took to the ice in tribal-themed outfits, and danced an “Aboriginal-inspired” program.
They’d toned it down last night—to make it “more authentic, and less theatrical,” Shabalin explained to reporters afterward. He, for example, had lightened the hue of his skin suit, and they wore fewer leaves, and had less white paint on their faces, arms and legs; the haunting drumming, meanwhile, had been removed from the music. Shabalin said he still couldn’t understand why it was seen as offensive, and very much liked “this unique culture.” The program ended with a nose-to-nose greeting, a so-called “Eskimo kiss.”
The North American pals, who shared warm embraces after tonight’s skate, were clearly happy with the placement. “Man, I’m glad it’s the four of us in first and second,” said Moir. “That’s the way it should be.” “We train with them—we see them every day,” added White. “They’re our best buds—it’s awesome.”
Moir and Virtue’s performance brought smiles to Canada’s figure skating squad, who’d suffered through a dark day; yesterday morning, they learned of the sudden death of the mother of teammate, Joannie Rochette—Virtue’s roommate at the Athlete’s Village. “It’s devastating,” said Virtue, fighting back tears, after skating last night. “I feel so much for Joannie. We’re all here to support her.”