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Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir compete during the Senior Ice Dance- Short Dance at the National Skating Championships in Ottawa on Friday, January 10, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir compete during the Senior Ice Dance- Short Dance at the National Skating Championships in Ottawa on Friday, January 10, 2014. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Virtue and Moir unhappy with short program performance Add to ...

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took first place - by a comfortable margin - in the ice dance short program at the Canadian figure skating championships on Friday. But they aren't happy.

Minutes after stepping off the ice, the defending Olympic gold medalists proceeded to beat themselves up over a subpar showing. Moir said he didn't feel right on the ice. They botched a lift. Virtue said there was "a lot to learn" from how they skated.

But if Canada's golden couple seemed unusually hard on themselves, it's because the Sochi Olympics are so close. With less than a month to go, the margin for error is razor thin. And their appetite for mistakes is even smaller.

"You've got to be tight and make sure that you get all your points. We left some on the board today," Moir said. "There's a lot of pressure, we want to compete well for our Canadian fans. The good thing is, that's great practice for Sochi. But we didn't perform under that pressure as well as we'd like to."

Still, the 76.16 score Virtue and Moir notched was good enough to put them solidly in first place heading into Saturday's long program. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who sat out this competition a year ago due to injury, are in second with 72.68 points.

Alexandra Paul and and Mitchell Islam are third with 67.67 points, followed by Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier in fourth, with 65.11 points.

A total of 12 teams are vying for three Canadian spots in the ice dance at the Sochi Olympics. The long program will be skated Saturday, and Canada's Olympic team will be announced Sunday at noon.

Asked if the bar is being set higher as the Sochi Games draw near, Virtue said there were positives from Friday's short program, but over all, they are scrutinizing their performances more than ever. Even before they received their scoring breakdown Friday, the pair were unhappy with a long lift they knew they didn't execute properly.

"I'm sure a lot of people around us will think, oh you know, don't be so negative. And, as I said, there are a lot of positives to take from it, but it's just the place we're at in our season. It's all about process, it's all about trying to achieve the highest quality performance possible. So we're just always looking to get that."

Virtue and Moir head to Sochi on a collision course for gold with their U.S. rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White. But lurking not far off are Canadians Weaver and Poje, who have been gaining momentum over the past year, and could also make a run for the podium.

On Friday, Weaver and Poje admitted they were just happy to be on the ice at the Canadian championships. Last year, Weaver watched this competition on crutches, having just had surgery to repair a broken ankle. The injury threatened to derail their chances for Sochi, but they are now pushing toward the Games after an accelerated rehab and training regimen.

"It's definitely a different feeling being on the other side of the boards. We like being on the ice," Poje said.

"Last year helped us understand how special it is to be on the ice every day and to put our effort into everyday. And that helped us put out a performance that we can be happy with  and something that we hope we can build upon."

Their music, the finale from the musical 42nd Street, was the song Weaver found herself listening to over and over while recovering from the surgery.

"I remembered it from when I was a little girl because I loved watching the movie. And I watched the movie again and again and again, to the point where Andrew and my parents were like, 'Again, 42nd Street? Aren't you sick of that?' But it just makes you feel good. It's the story that talks about an underdog, and if you believe, anything can happen.

After the short program, Weaver said she felt pretty good about how they skated.

"It felt like a season's best, and that's exactly where we need to be right now," Weaver said.