LONDON, Ont. — Theirs is a rivalry that stretches back more than a decade, way back to a bench-clearing hockey brawl when they were kids.
Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have been duking it out with Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White in ice dance ever since, with the two trading titles since the Vancouver Olympics.
This round went to Davis and White, who captured gold at the world figure skating championships Saturday, playing spoiler to hometown heroes Virtue and Moir.
“This rivalry between the two of us seems to have heated up a little bit now, and it should be a little bit of fun going into the Olympics,” Moir said.
Virtue and Moir brought the crowd — dotted with dozens of fans dressed in yellow in support of the two Canadians — to its feet with their provocative and sultry “Carmen” program. But they had taken a deficit of 3.25 points into the free dance after a shaky short program two nights earlier, and it was too much to make up.
Davis and White, skating to “Notre Dame de Paris,” topped their own world record in the free dance en route to claiming the gold with 189.56 points. Virtue and Moir scored 185.04. Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev of Russia won the bronze with a score of 169.19.
Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were fifth.
Kaetlyn Osmond, a 17-year-old from Marystown, N.L., finished eighth in women’s singles, falling twice. South Korea’s Kim Yu-Na won the gold in her first major international competition in two years, while Italy’s Carolina Kostner won the silver and Japan’s Mao Asada claimed the bronze.
The ice dance silver medal came a day after Canada’s Patrick Chan captured his third consecutive world title and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won bronze for the first Canadian pairs medal in five years.
The Canadians and Americans have trained together in the same Canton, Mich., rink for years, and share the same coach in Marina Zoueva. Early on in their friendship White told Moir about a bench-clearing brawl in a hockey game he had played in Canada.
“I think there were even parents fighting in the stands. I was the only one sitting on bench. Scott said, ‘You know what? I think I was in the middle of that fight on the other team. It was a really funny moment, but just how far back we go…
“Being able to train together, it all adds to the mystique and what makes it a special rivalry in every sport. Having such a talented rival as them at the rink every day and seeing how great they are has pushed us and I think in turn we’ve pushed them back. It’s a great storyline for next year.”
Their rivalry is the fiercest in figure skating right now, and they’ll head into next year’s Olympics with two world titles apiece.
Moir said it’s largely the rivalry that has pushed both teams to such lofty heights.
“We use each other every day in practice,” Moir said. “It’s hard to slack off when you have these guys out there going 100 miles an hour around the ice. We just try and keep up. It’s going to be fun.”
Canadian Governor General David Johnston was in attendance and Prime Minister Stephen Harper tweeted his congratulations to Virtue and Moir.
This was supposed to be the Canadians’ week — likely their last world championship in front of their hometown fans. Virtue grew up in London, while Moir is from Ilderton, about a 20-minute drive north. They’d acted almost like unofficial ambassadors for the event, and their faces could be seen on posters and signs around the city.
Too much pressure?
“I think it’s more difficult to skate at home than in neutral territory, I saw they kind of feel the pressure,” Zoueva said.
Moir said they loved the support and were thrilled to compete in front of people who’ve been there since Day 1. But he admitted the week was also “exhausting.”
“You walk in the door and sometimes it felt like we couldn’t get away from it,” he said. “You walk in and you know every single volunteer, you know every single bellman at the hotel, everybody knows who you are.”
Virtue, in a one-shoulder backless black dress, and Moir dazzled the fans with “Carmen” on Saturday, a program that was 180-degree turn from the ethereal Vancouver Olympic free dance to music by Gustav Mahler that oozed innocence.
Carmen has received mixed reviews, but Virtue and Moir believe in pushing the ice-dance envelope.
“I think there’s a lot of figure skating people who weren’t really on our level, and didn’t agree with (Carmen) at all,” Moir said. “We’ll see what we can make next year. We’re not going to go back into the classic Virtue and Moir that everyone wants either, because we’re older and more mature. I think we’ll have something special for you next year.”
Carmen was an athletically ambitious program that Moir admitted made for a tough year. One lift has Virtue do a backflip into Moir’s arms and then up over his shoulders and ends with the two spinning circles.
“We really pushed ourselves this year with some tricky elements and tough stuff, everything that we did was new,” Moir said. “I think we know what we have to do, we have to do ‘us’ a little bit more.
“I think it’s our connection,” he said, when asked what to expand on “us.”
Weaver and Poje, meanwhile, competed three months after Weaver broke her fibula when she crashed into the boards in training.
The Waterloo, Ont., natives, who were fourth at last year’s world championships, were told they had about a 10 per cent of rebounding in time to compete in London. Weaver was injured Dec. 14 and underwent surgery that left her with a plate and five screws holding her fibula together.
“I wish we could just freeze this moment in time. All our hard work — me being in the physio, Andrew skating by himself for two months — now came together,” Weaver said. “That’s just incredible.”
Weaver underwent six hours of physiotherapy a day before finally returning to the ice Feb. 6.
“This season was a true test for the strength of our character and for us as a team,” Poje said. “It showed us that no matter the circumstances, we are able to go back and work.”