Virtue and Moir keep Canada in first in figure skating team event

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada perform during the ice dance short dance team event in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Sunday, Feb. 11, 2018. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

It's both about 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 Saturday, 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 frown in the kiss and cry, but the 30-year-old from Ilderton, Ont., said that's a bonus of giving their programs a test run in the team event before their 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., earned a 71.38 score in the women's competition, good for third in her segment of the event. That added eight points to Canada total for a combined score of 35 points.

Evgenia Medvedeva's 81.06 points were best in the women's competition on Sunday, giving the Olympic Athletes from Russia 10 points for a cumulative score of 31, good for second.

The United States sat third after the women's with 29 points. Japan and Italy also qualified for the next round.

Canada's top rivals Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who edged Virtue and Moir 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."

Two-time world pairs champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford skate their free program later Saturday.

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."

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 short program.

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.