Sports

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir set world record to win Skate Canada International

Postmedia sports columnist Dan Barnes.

By Dan Barnes, Postmedia Network

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada perform their free dance on Saturday. (Geoff Robins / AFP / Getty Images)

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada perform their free dance on Saturday. (Geoff Robins / AFP / Getty Images)

REGINA - 

The ice dance world has been put on notice: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are saving the best for last, if indeed this is their swan song.

The defending world champions were the class of Skate Canada International here again during Saturday’s free skate at the Brandt Centre — twizzling, lifting, stepping, spinning and emoting their way through a sensual, dramatic and athletic Moulin Rouge program to emerge with a win and world record overall score of 199.86.

It was their second consecutive win at Skate Canada International and the seventh in their impressive career.

Though they think that world-record number will fall later this season, perhaps more than once, it’s early encouragement from judges that all their work has been on point.

“It’s a nice confidence boost,” Virtue said. “I think if anything it’s validation that we’re on the right track, which any athlete loves, any time.”

It set them more than nine points ahead of Canadian teammates Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who finished second at 190.01. Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue finished third at 189.43.

Their four-minute free dance is a feast for the senses, and though the connection between Virtue and Moir is obviously rehearsed for months on end, its genuine. It’s clear they love skating together, and they’re all-in on the substance and emotion of this long program, as well as the journey to a third, and likely final Olympics.

The fact that Moulin Rouge also racks up the points is a bit of a bonus.

“We build programs with points in mind,” Moir said. “I think that’s kind of the argument that our coaches had with us. We’d love to have a perfect scoresheet at the Olympic Games and that’s a goal of ours, but at the same time we always find we skate well when we think about our feeling and our performance and just being connected to each other. So we worry about the points kind of when we do our homework, and in the moment, not so much.”

At this moment, they appear to have separated themselves from the field, with a blend of risky lifts, intricate footwork and speed. That doesn’t happen by mistake. They have built a support team of expert service providers and coaches in Montreal, and they have added their considerable work product to that ambitious enterprise.

And really, they have grown as athletes and people over their 20-year on-ice relationship, so a finely honed program should be the norm by now.

“We’ve worked for this feeling,” Virtue said. “This is why we put in all the hours and built the team we have around us and why we’ve set ourselves up to take the ice with this sort of confidence.”

They will go to the PyeongChang Olympics with the same frame of mind, backed by gold from Vancouver in 2010 and silver at Sochi 2014, and freed by the notion that they came out of retirement to do this all over again purely for themselves. It’s personal.

“We love going into the rink every day,” Moir said. “We came back, we didn’t have to, it was for us. And I think there is power to that. We’re doing this because we love figure skating, because we love ice dancing with each other. It’s a crazy thing to say, but that’s why.”

They will tweak the free dance between now and their next Grand Prix event, the NHK Trophy, and all the way up to PyeongChang in February. But its drama, speed and power has set the bar pretty high.

“Obviously there’s a healthy amount of lead in the points but we like to believe that Canada is one team and we also think that having Canada on the podium twice across all the events this year is definitely very possible,” Weaver said.

DUHAMEL, RADFORD WIN PAIRS TITLE

The fire and fight is back, propelling pairs team Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford to the top of a Grand Prix podium.

The perennial Canadian champs, who are retiring from competitive skating after this season, took a victory lap at their final Skate Canada International, and they had the flags and tongues wagging.

They were practically perfect in Saturday’s long program at the Brandt Centre and vaulted over German rivals Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot into first place, with a total score of 222.22.

They landed a throw quad Salchow, a triple Lutz and Salchow and a throw triple Lutz; basically the whole arsenal.

“I think this is the most emotional Skate Canada victory. We’ve won a few Skate Canadas but this is one of the sweetest victories of our careers just because of where we came from to get here,” said a teary Duhamel.

They were a distant seventh at world championships, third at the Grand Prix Final and second at Four Continents. They struggled to put a clean long program on the ice whenever it counted most.

“Everybody knows the struggles that we went through last year,” said Duhamel. “There were times when we wondered if we could ever deliver again like we did tonight. I’m sure many people wondered if we could ever do that, too.

“It was like we had this little string of hope left in us as we came into this season and this victory and this performance shows us everything we’re doing is right. We made the right decisions this year.”

They parted ways with coach Richard Gauthier in June, added a choreographer and a coach to support head coach Bruno Marcotte, who was on the support team and is also Duhamel’s husband.

She has worked on her mental toughness, after admittedly settling for poor results. Radford sees the difference in her and their performance.

“This is the most prepared and focused that we’ve felt,” he said. “You never know what’s going to happen in the moment, but this lets us know that it’s possible for it to happen in the future.”

Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch were sixth, Sydney Kolodziej and Maxime Deschamps eighth.

dbarnes@postmedia.com