NICE, France — Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are back on top of the ice dancing world.
The Olympic champions reclaimed their world title on Thursday, edging American rivals and defending champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
Skating their free dance to George Gershwin’s “Funny Face,” Virtue and Moir finished the free dance with 182.65 points. The duo won the world crown in 2010 but finished second last year in a season that saw the two sidelined for several months after Virtue had surgery on her legs.
“We definitely had to fight a little more for the program than maybe our fairytale performance would have been, but I guess that’s why you train,” Moir said. “This season, we’re really appreciating having the training under our belts and to perform like that, even when it isn’t a perfect skate — Tessa has convinced me (it wasn’t perfect) because she’s a perfectionist, but I thought it was pretty good.
“Overall, we’re happy, we had a great competition, and we can’t be too upset.”
Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., led after Wednesday’s short program.
Davis and White — Virtue and Moir’s traning partners who were second after the short dance — finished with 178.62 points.
“The feeling is definitely a little bit different than it was last year.” Davis said. “Last year, we felt a lot of pressure to make history with the opportunity to become the first American world ice dance champions. This year, coming in, we wanted to put down two really great performances and make a statement, and I think we did that.”
Davis and White kept the pressure on with an inspirational free skate to the searing sound of Johann Strauss’ “Die Fledermaus” that had the crowd applauding on its feet at the Palais des Expositions in Nice.
“We feel like we skated our hearts out. We took what we did in the short dance into today and left it all on the ice,” White said. “The music is crowd-pleasing, so then we get into it and it magnifies it.”
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France were third with 173.18 points.
Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., finished fourth with 166.65 — it’s the first time Canada has had two ice dance teams finish in the top four.
In women’s singles, Alena Leonova of Russia set the pace while Canada’s Amelie Lacoste was left hoping she’s just close enough to nab a spot in the top 10.
The 21-year-old Leonova, dressed in a pirate’s ruffled blouse and black pants and boots, scored 64.61 points for her whimsical skate to the soundtrack to “Pirates of the Caribbean” to take the lead heading into Saturday’s free program.
Kanako Murakami of Japan was second with 62.67 points, while Italy’s Carolina Kostner scored 61.00 to sit third.
Lacoste, Canada’s lone entry in the women’s event, was 13th with a score of 49.37.
A top-10 finish is key for Lacoste, because it would give Canada two women’s entries in next year’s world championships in London, Ont.
“I really tried to put that aside but of course it’s still a little bit in my head,” said Lacoste, who was 4.8 points out of a top-10 result. “It’s a game, so I need to deal with it. My goal is top-10 but I need to focus first on my performance to achieve that goal.”
The 2013 world championships, in turn, determines how many entries a country will have in each discipline at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
The 23-year-old from Delson, Que., skating to Duke Ellington’s “Satin Doll,” lost several points for stepping out of the first triple loop of a planned triple loop-triple loop combination, and so didn’t receive marks for a combination.
“It hurts a lot because usually I can get about 6.8, and I only got 3-point-something,” said Lacoste, who was 16th last year in her world championship debut. “But the event is not done. There’s still space for the long program to be in the top-10 so I’m very confident of that.”
Two-time world champion Mao Asada of Japan fell on her triple Axel — she was the only woman in the field to attempt the jump — and wound up fourth.
American champion Ashley Wagner was eighth.
Leonova was a big hit with the crowd at the Palais des Expositions in a women’s field that’s considered among the weakest in recent memory. Neither Olympic champion Kim Yu-na of South Korea nor last year’s champion Miki Ando of Japan are skating this season.
Canada’s Olympic bronze medallist Joannie Rochette is taking a break from the competitive ice, and hasn’t announced whether she’ll return to skate in Sochi.
This year marks the second time the world championships have been held in Nice, an unlikely spot for a winter sporting event in the city situated in the heart of the French Riviera. Several skating officials sported tans from soaking up the Mediterranean sunshine as temperatures climbed above 20 C Thursday.
The arena, with the Pyrenees mountains as its backdrop, is just a few blocks walk along cobblestone streets lined with palm trees and orange trees from the beautiful Bay of Angels.