Virtue, Moir hope to make history with hometown win
Canadian ice dancers Scott Moir, of Ilderton, Ont. and Tessa Virtue, of London, Ont. practice their short dance routine during day two of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships at Budweiser Gardens in London on March 12, 2013. (CRAIG GLOVER/QMI AGENCY)
They can stay at the hotel, take the bus, turn off their phones and try to pretend they're back in Tokyo or Nice, France.
But there is no hiding at a hometown world championship.
The last person Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir see before they hit the Budweiser Gardens ice this week is Beth Emery, a coach at the Ilderton club where they grew up.
Her post is at the rink-side entrance.
The assistant director of volunteer recruiting at the Western Fair practice facility during this London showcase is Moir's aunt Carol, the coach responsible for putting the Olympic ice dance champs together.
Moir's older brother Danny is lending a hand and his cousin Sheri is helping prepare part of the show for the opening ceremonies Wednesday.
Everywhere they look, there's a life-long link.
"This is our city, this is our venue, there's no doubt about that -- this is where we come Friday nights to watch the (OHL's London) Knights," Moir said. "I thought nationals here was special enough, but to be here at a world championship, it gives me goose bumps just thinking about it. It seems like the community is really rallying around us so what more can you ask?"
This is where they can, starting Thursday and ending Saturday, produce a signature London moment like the Knights' 2005 Memorial Cup win against Sidney Crosby's Rimouski Oceanic.
On Monday evening, they went downtown for their pre-worlds workout at their strength coach Maria Mountain's gym.
"We were there -- all by ourselves," Virtue said.
"She's superstitious," Moir added, "and we don't work out with her when we're away so we were allowed to go use the gym but she didn't want to see us."
The people who know them best are treating them like a game-day pitcher or a hockey goalie before a playoff game -- approach with caution.
"Everyone is extremely respectful and they know we have a job to do," Virtue, the 23-year-old Londoner, said, "but of course, we're excited to see all these familiar faces and it's only a benefit to us.
"You get that extra smile or a wink from the volunteers and it's really special. Everyone's excited and we can feel that energy."
Virtue and Moir carry the pressure of being the face of these worlds and history, too. Only four Canadian skaters and teams have won a gold medal at this event, none in their hometown.
"Did you find some good place to eat yet or what?," Moir asked the visiting media. "You don't need any suggestions. Go a little bit north on Richmond, (Joe) Kool's for a beer. I don't have to tell you where to go to the watering hole."
He was asked where in Ilderton, currently decked out in gold banners for these worlds, was good to visit for refreshments.
"Any spot in Ilderton is a hot spot, I can tell you that," Moir said.
They are here to defend their title against their top-notch U.S. rivals, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who have won five of the last seven head-to-head meetings. One bobble in either program could be the difference.
"It's tough when you're competitors," the 25-year-old Moir said. "We definitely have a friendship. I wouldn't say off the ice, we're best of friends. I'm not going to pull the wool over your eyes and think we're holding hands and skipping out of the rink every day. We both respect each other. We've come up since (they were kids) and we respect what they do. We wish them all the best."
After their worrisome pause because of a Virtue cramp in her calf during their free dance at the Four Continents in Osaka, Japan, last month, they went back and took stock of what needed to be done before this week.
"We were able to see where we went off track a little bit, and only with the best intentions," Virtue said. " It was only because we wanted to push ourselves and we were really emphasizing speed and power. When you get to be feeling so good, you forget to take care of the details that made you feel good in the first place. We let that get away from us a bit."
During practice, Virtue tried out a new black-and-white short-dance dress she and her mom took a shine to in Michigan. That could be a good omen.
She did some experimenting with her costume before the Olympic free dance three years ago, too.
So which one will it be?
"I'm not sure," she replied.
"Tune in," Moir said. "Tune in Thursday."