By Rory Carroll and Elaine Lies
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir made a perfect start in their bid to add another Olympic medal to the four they already possess by breaking their own ice dance short program world record to skate ahead of the field on Monday.
The pair have tasted defeat just once since coming out of retirement in late 2016, when a loss to France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at the Nagoya Grand Prix Final last December was enough to make them tweak their program.
Virtue and Moir, who are competing in their last Olympics and played a key role in Canada’s team trophy gold last week, scored 83.67 points for their sizzling Latin-themed routine, breaking their previous record mark of 82.68.
They edged out their French rivals, whose stellar skate had the audience clapping along to the Ed Sheeran soundtrack that accompanied their dance, by less than two points with Papadakis and Cizeron awarded 81.93 by the judges.
“It feels great but even better than the world record is the feeling we had when we ended the program,” Virtue told Reuters.
“We’re really pleased with that performance. On the world’s biggest stage when the pressure is mounting, it’s nice to be able to deliver like that.”
Virtue and Moir have two individual Olympic medals, gold from Vancouver in 2010 and silver in Sochi four years ago, as well as a 2014 team silver to go with last week’s gold.
These Olympics have been billed as a showdown between the Canadian and French pairs, with figure skating experts believing a loss for Virtue and Moir would signal a generational change in the sport.
The Canadians told reporters last week that after December’s stinging loss to the French, they went back and changed things in their program, mainly to improve their transitions to make both the short and free skates more fluid and seamless.
Asked about the showdown with Papadakis and Cizeron, who share the same coaches and practice at the same rink in Canada, Moir said: “We’ve marked them as our rivals for a long time, from the start of this comeback.
“We watched their worlds when we weren’t there and we have nothing but respect for these two.”
Papadakis and Cizeron appeared a little disappointed after their skate, with the former saying, “It felt great but could have been better.”
They said the rivalry was sometimes frustrating but more often helpful.
“Yeah, it has been something that has been really hard to work with but really inspiring at the same time,” Cizeron said.
“It really pushes us to go over our limits and it has been an interesting journey. It brings out our competitive energy but that’s what we look for in sport I think. Every athlete wouldn’t be as good if he didn’t have someone to push against.”
Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue claimed third place with a 77.75 score that was just enough to put them above compatriots Maia and Alex Shibutani by 0.02 points.
The free skate takes place on Tuesday before the ladies event kicks off a day later.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies and Rory Carroll; Editing by John O’Brien)