Canada's Virtue-Moir win ice dance gold
Long after the event ended and the arena had emptied, Scott Moir stole back onto the ice. Clutching his gold medal in one hand, he knelt down and kissed the Olympic rings at center ice.
Then he climbed into the stands, took pictures with the cleaning crew and signed a few autographs. He even let a few folks touch the medal for a second or two.
He and his partner, Tessa Virtue, had knocked the Russians from their traditional perch atop the ice dance podium, so this party was going to last a long time.
Virtue and Moir won the dance title Monday night, a first for the Canadians - heck, for anybody in North America. For only the third time since ice dance became an Olympic sport in 1976, the gold went to someone other than a Russian or Soviet couple.
``I'll probably wear it in the shower,'' Moir said. ``I'm not going to take it off all week.''
The Russians won't have that option. They've been oh-for-gold in pairs, men's competition and now dance - events they're used to dominating. They could very well go home without winning at least one skating event for the first time since 1960.
Russia couldn't even win the silver in dance. That went to two-time U.S. champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, giving the United States back-to-back dance medals for the first time. Reigning world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia were third.
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, silver medalists at the 2006 Olympics and the skaters who started this dance revolution, were fourth.
``North America has really come into its own in terms of ice dance,'' Davis said. ``This Olympics is a little bit of a turning point again. It's really exciting to be a part of it.''
Davis and White's silver was the 25th medal won by the U.S., matching its record set in 2006 for medals won at a Winter Olympics away from home. The Americans are guaranteed of passing that, because the U.S. women's hockey team can do no worse than a silver medal.
``For us to be a part of that, it's really exciting,'' Davis said.
Virtue's jaw dropped when she saw their overall score of 221.57 and Moir jumped to his feet, screaming almost as loudly as the crowd that was shattering the decibel meter. With Davis and White, second after the original dance, already finished, Virtue and Moir knew the gold was all but theirs.
Virtue and Moir finished 5.83 points ahead of the Americans, their close friends and training partners in Detroit.
``I don't think either of us would be where we are without the other. We help each other on our bad days, and even push it a little more on the good days,'' Moir said. ``To have each other up there on the podium, side by side, it's amazing. They're such great people.
``I'm sure they wanted to be up on the top of the podium, but they don't show any of that to us,'' he added. ``They're just such great friends, and they gave us the best hug.''
Moir couldn't stop moving on the medals podium, and he shook his bouquet so hard during their victory lap that flowers went flying across the ice. The couple looked around the arena as the ceremony started and, recognizing that few fans had left, made sure to display their medals to every corner of the arena, inviting everyone to share a piece of their triumph. With each new wave of applause, their grins widened.
After their lap, Moir jumped into the stands and held up his medal so fans could get a closer look. Then he and Virtue sprinted back onto the ice, holding up the Canadian flag.
``Right now, Vancouver is our favorite place to be,'' Virtue said. ``It's been the perfect games.''
Virtue and Moir's program was tender and sensual, like a married couple stealing away for a romantic evening. Their gentle, slow start showcased their skating skills, their edges so quiet and smooth they appeared to float above the ice. Make no mistake, though, there was plenty of strength behind that softness.
They had as much power and speed as the hockey players Moir admires so much, but it was performed with balletic grace. Their combination spin seemed to go on forever, with many different positions and edge changes.
And their lifts, oh my. Virtue looked almost angelic on one, balancing on his right thigh with her arms outstretched while he stayed in a deep-knee, spread-eagle bend before she flipped forward and into his arms.
When they finished, they hugged each other tightly. It's been a tough road for the Canadians, who missed almost all of the 2008-09 season after she had surgery to relieve chronic pain in both her shins.
``I wasn't sure we'd ever get back,'' Virtue said. ``That makes this victory even sweeter.''
While Virtue and Moir were all softness and grace, Davis and White's ``Phantom of the Opera'' was big and bold, as powerful as any Broadway production. They skated perfectly to the music, flying across the ice in the fast parts and oozing romance when it slowed.
Their lifts were akin to stunts, done at breakneck speed yet with perfect control. In one, White flipped Davis over his shoulder so she faced the opposite direction. Then, skating backward on one leg, he picked up the other and crossed it behind him, using it to balance his partner. With her arms stretched out wide, that crossed leg was the only thing keeping her from plunging to the ice.
Davis and White's only flaw was a point deduction, likely for an extended lift. But it wouldn't have made a difference in the final results.
``When you're in the moment and you're just enjoying yourself, it's easy to step over,'' Davis said.
Domnina and Shabalin's routine was very theatrical and highly entertaining, but ice dance has moved beyond the theater it was 10 years ago. The sport now requires good, old-fashioned skating skills, power and innovation, and Domnina and Shabalin didn't quite have it.
They didn't have the same speed of either the Canadians or the Americans and their steps weren't as difficult. Not surprising, considering Shabalin has been plagued by knee problems the last three seasons. When they saw their marks, they nodded matter-of-factly and headed backstage.
The Canadians, meanwhile, got ready for a party that might last all the way until Sochi.
``We knew it was in us, but to get out there on the Olympic ice and to perform and to execute like that,'' Moir said, ``it's a feeling that I've never had.''