LONDON, Ont. - Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir lit up the scoreboard in a way no Canadian skaters ever have when they won their third ice dancing title at the Canadian figure skating championships on Saturday.
Virtue and Moir set Canadian records of 107.82 points for the free dance alone and 221.26 total points for the competition.
At the world level, only Olympic champions Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov of Russia have recorded a higher dance score - 227.81 points for winning the 2005 world championships in Moscow.
Virtue and Moir skated a seamless routine to Gustav Mahler's fifth symphony, with complicated lifts and near perfection in every line and s stroke. They drew a standing ovation.
"Tess and I are obviously pretty pleased with that program tonight,'' Moir said. "There was a lot of energy in the arena. We really tried to feed off that. It added a lot of pressure for us today. We really wanted to go out there and give them something to stand up for.''
Moir said they want to push the program more for the Olympics and he and Virtue have already spoken to coach/choreographer Marina Zoueva about things they'd live to improve or change.
One of them might be their touchless lift - the one they call the goose - which they altered to avoid any suggestion of illegality.
"I guess I have to do something in that lift,'' Moir said. "She can't just stand on me and do an Axel off [my back] all the time.''
In the lift, Virtue perches precariously on his back, resting only her leg on his back. Earlier this year, she did a rotation off his back and landed on the ice.
Both of them say the version they used on Saturday is much riskier. She falls backwards over his shoulder into his arms. While doing it, she cannot see where she is going.
"Usually we try to get more of an angle so my head is closer to the ice,'' she said. "It's more fun and a bit more exciting. It's something new and we're just playing with it. We might try out some different variations when we get home.''
Not seeing where she's going? "That's the fun of it. I know he's going to be there to catch me.''
"Sometimes I'm not so sure sometimes,'' Moir said.
If Virtue and Moir provided the awe in the dance event, the two teams behind them, both fighting for the other Olympic berth, provided the drama. Going into the free dance on Saturday, they were separated by only two-hundredths of a point, with Kaitlyn Weaverand Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., having the edge.
When they finished the free dance on Saturday, they were still separated by only three-tenths of a point, but Vanessa Crone of Aurora, Ont., and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., were in second place, and rather shocked to be there. They get the Olympic spot. Weaver and Poje, who have made tremendous strides this year, stay at home.
Many, including Crone and Poirier, figured they'd lost their Olympic opportunity after Crone fell on a twizzle during the free dance.
"I was in shock,'' Crone said. "I've done those twizzles over and over again. That's one thing I was really comfortable with the whole week in practice. Once I got to the kiss and cry, it actually sunk in that that actually happened.''
Poirer was obviously shocked. They'd been so well prepared. "I think we were just a little bit surprised that we let a mistake happen, but we just decided not to let it get to us. We decided to stay strong, to keep hoping, to be content with the result...And even though we did have the mistake, it was still emotionally and presentation-wise, the strongest free dance we have done this season.''
The young team - she is 19, he 18 - huddled themselves off into a corner in seclusion to nurse their wounds.
In the stands, teammates Kharis Ralph and Asher Hill of Toronto were watching and their hearts sank when they saw the fall.
"When she made the major mistake, I cried,'' Hill said. "Then when they came second, I cried again. It was very emotional. I'm not one to cry a lot. I thought it was gone.''
Poirier said Ralph and Hill threw themselves on them in their corner. And that's how they found out they'd won the silver medal and the Olympic berth.
Weaver and Poje found heartbreak. They left the door open when Poje stumbled during the routine.
"We worked all year for this,'' Poje said. "It's tough to have it so close, but we went out there, we skated, we had a little stumble and we left stuff on the table. So we gave them a chance.''
"We did the best we could,'' Weaver said. "We really put it out there.''
Weaver and Poje got a standing ovation and when their marks came up, putting them behind Crone and Poirier, some parts of the crowd booed.
"I think the audience reaction said a lot,'' Weaver said. "Just to know that they were with us, too. We got another standing ovation. That's two nationals in a row. that means a lot to us.''
Meanwhile Ralph and Hill had a little triumph of their own. They finished only ninth in the compulsory dance, the tango romantica, but they had only 1 ½ months to practice it because they'd spent the early part of the season on the Junior Grand Prix circuit with another dance.
Worried that they might be left off the national team (top five), they skated a strong original dance and free dance to finish fourth. She's only 17, he 18.
And they learned a valuable lesson. Hill says he was impressed that Crone and Poirier remained committed to the performance, even under duress. And on Saturday, that made all the difference.