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Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir perform their short program in the ice dance category during the ISU World Figure Skating Championships on April 29, 2011 in Moscow. (YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)
Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir perform their short program in the ice dance category during the ISU World Figure Skating Championships on April 29, 2011 in Moscow. (YURI KADOBNOV/AFP/Getty Images)

BEVERLEY SMITH

Virtue, Moir get into groove Add to ...

The event organizers in Helsinki must have thought they’d hit the motherlode.

At their modest little figure-skating competition, the Finlandia Trophy, earlier this month, who should show up but 2010 Olympic ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir?

Virtue of London, Ont., and Moir of Ilderton, Ont., picked the Helsinki event – usually for developing skaters – as their start-up competition for this season’s Grand Prix circuit, starting with Skate Canada International next week in Mississauga. It proved to be a good choice, as they won the event handily.

“It was a great building block for Skate Canada,” Moir said. “We want to compete as much as we can this year.”

The Canadian duo competed little last season, while Virtue underwent a second surgery for an overuse injury in her legs. They had to withdraw from Skate Canada and also missed the 2011 national championships.

Their first competition of the season was the Four Continents Championships, but they had to withdraw part-way through the event, when Virtue developed muscle tightness in her quads. They returned for the world championships in Moscow, and took the silver medal.

But the Canadians are back with renewed vigour and excitement, now that Virtue is healthy and can train full-out. They’re going to compete full-out, too, perhaps as many as eight or nine times, they say.

Helsinki was the perfect destination for the couple that wanted to debut their new free dance to music from Funny Face, a movie starring Audrey Hepburn and Fred Astaire. Virtue and Moir got valuable feedback from judges and technical experts – it’s almost as if skaters now need trial runs to ensure they don’t miss any constantly evolving rule changes before they hit the Grand Prix – and they revisited a city they came to love seven years ago.

In 1994, Virtue and Moir were just beginning to emerge on the international scene when they competed in the Junior Grand Prix Final in Helsinki.

“We were pretty young back then, pretty green,” Moir said. “We really didn’t know what to expect. It was a big deal back then, and going there, there was a special feeling. Helsinki is a pretty magical place, especially in the wintertime, and the downtown is so nice.

“It’s probably one of our favourite cities in Europe.”

Returning there two weeks ago was a little different. The rink wasn’t the big coliseum they have become accustomed to. Instead, in the small Valtti Arena, about 2,000 people witnessed the beginning of the Olympic champions’ season.

“It was a neat feeling,” Moir said. “And it kind of gave us an opportunity to be a little more intimate with our fans. And it felt like the judges were sitting right on the ice.”

The video of the Canadians winning the Finlandia Trophy with great ease is scratchy and soft, as if it’s an old movie that has lost its sharpness with time.

But Virtue and Moir have not.

Hepburn is Virtue’s idol, and Moir is determined to bring youth to the spectre of an aging Astaire. Virtue had wanted to skate to Funny Face for four or five years. Now, is her chance.

Moir had not seen the movie before last spring. Now, he says he’s seen it a thousand times.

“We’ll be in the middle of the program and Scott will say a line directly from the movie,” Virtue said. “That makes it fun and that makes it easier to get into character.”

And with what they learned in Helsinki, Virtue and Moir plan to be even more convincing in Mississauga.

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