GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have the lead in ice dance following the short dance at Gangneung Ice Arena on Monday afternoon.
The defending world champions skated to a Latin musical selection and set a world record with a score of 83.67 points.
Virtue and Moir were the gold medalists in ice dance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and silver medalists in Sochi four years ago. They received high grades of execution on all of their elements and are well-positioned for a shot at a second gold.
France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who train with the Canadians in Montreal, are in second place with 81.93, while Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the U.S. stand in third at 77.75.
Moir and Virtue, who are three-time world champions, took the 2014-15 season off following the Sochi Games and Virtue felt the move was beneficial.
“I think there is something about taking time away and gaining perspective, and also it’s a testament to our team in Montreal and our coaches Marie-France (Dubreuil) and Patrice (Lauzon),” Virtue stated. “They really set up for this moment. We are so prepared and we are savoring every bit of it.”
Moir says he and his partner are determined but realize they are only halfway home at this point.
“We really want to win this individual gold,” Moir commented. “It’s a really deep field and we have to really be on our game. The Americans are so strong, the French are so strong and we even have a Canadian in the mix. We just have to keep going and keep plugging away. It’s a two-day event.”
Papadakis had a wardrobe malfunction during their program but persevered despite the incident.
“My costume opened up,” Papadakis commented. “It was difficult. It’s the first time something like that has happened. I tried to stay focused and finish without anything else happening.”
The French skaters, who have won the world title twice, beat Virtue and Moir to win the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya in December, and Cizeron believes they can do it again.
“Two points can be caught up,” Cizeron said. “If we can do our best we have chances to win. We have to stay focused and look forward.”
Americans Maia and Alex Shibutani (77.73) are fourth.
The Shibutanis competed to a selection of Latin music and were absolutely electric. The crowd was really moved by their performance and gave them a huge ovation when they finished.
“That was the Olympic performance we were looking for,” Maia Shibutani stated. “After the team event we feel so much more confident. Going out there, we just wanted to enjoy it, and it was even better than we skated last week.”
Maia’s brother Alex said the routine allowed the duo to show the fans who they really are.
“It’s an awesome program and I think that we surprised many people with our ability to perform the Latin rhythm,” Alex commented. “It’s been so much fun for us, because we are able to show our personality.”
Japan’s Kana Muramoto and Chris Reed (63.41) are in 15th place and will advance to Tuesday’s free dance.
Reed, now skating for Japan in his third Olympics, talked about what it meant to skate for his ancestral homeland again.
“It’s an honor to represent Japan in ice dance,” Reed commented. “We (he and sister Cathy) did not get the results we wanted in Sochi. I feel more relaxed and confident this time around.”
Muramoto, competing in her first Olympics, was clearly moved after her initial foray on the ice at the sport’s biggest showcase.
“It was my dream to be an Olympian,” Muramoto said. “When we finished today I was just thinking, ‘I’m an Olympian.’ There were some nerves, but I really had a good time out there.”
Muramoto believes the duo is making progress as the season moves on.
“We are proud of what we have been working on,” Muramoto stated. “This shows that we are improving. Our recent form has been good. We want ice dance to be an important part of skating in Japan.”
Muramoto noted that she and Reed have a mantra to keep everything in perspective when the pressure is on.
“We call it IJS — it’s just skating,” Muramoto said with a smile.
The field of 24 teams will be reduced to 20 for the free dance.