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Ice dancers Virtue and Moir to skip national championships

Tessa Virtue (L) and Scott Moir of Canada skate during '2010 All That Skate LA' ice show in Los Angeles, California, October 2, 2010.

LUCY NICHOLSON





Olympic and world champion ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir say they are healthy and "80 per cent" ready to put on their new Latin-themed free dance routine - but have elected to listen to their coaches and withdraw from this week's Canadian figure skating championships in Victoria, B.C.



Virtue, 21, said although she has fully recovered from her second session of compartment-syndrome surgery in three years, the couple talked over the pros and cons of competing this week with coaches Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva and decided to pull out of the competition.



"The plan is to be Four Continents and world champions and we need a couple of weeks more of training," Moir, 23, said in a teleconference yesterday. "We had to see it from our coaches' perspective. We need the mileage."

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The absence of the Olympic gold medalists leaves the door ajar for national silver medalists Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier to claim their first senior Canadian title after being overshadowed by the success of Virtue and Moir.



"But we'll continue to practise and expect to be back in four weeks," said Virtue, referring to the Four Continents in February and world championships in March.



"I'd be shocked if we weren't there," Moir said. "I can't say enough about how healthy and strong Tessa is."



She said that for the first time in a couple years, she had been able to train at 100 per cent, without worrying about her legs. "I feel like an athlete again," said Virtue, who had surgery in October and was on ice at the end of November.



The enforced layoff of almost two months was what the couple needed, she said, after taking only a few days off in May and getting hit by post-Olympic doldrums.



The withdrawal puts a dent in the Canadian championship as a spectacle "but the most important thing is that the injury was dealt with and the recovery is good. Of course we'd love to have them at the nationals, but health is most important," said William Thompson, CEO of Skate Canada.



There could be some psychological points in play in staying out of the nationals. Crone and Poirier are on the rise after taking silver at Skate America, winning Skate Canada and getting a bronze at the International Skating Union final. They could put pressure on Virtue and Moir if the latter couple competes and isn't in form. There's no guarantee of a win.

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"That's exactly the sort of thing we asked Igor and Marina," Virtue said. She said the nature of the new program is completely different from what they've done before. Rather that "going from trick to trick, every step matters." She was glad of the faith shown in them that they can come back on top.



"We're trying to go back to dancing," Moir added. "It needs a couple more weeks before we can showcase it."

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James Christie written sports for the Globe on staff since 1974, covering almost all beats and interviewed the big names from Joe DiMaggio, to Muhammad Ali, to Jim Brown to Wayne Gretzky. Also covered the 10 worst years in Toronto Maple Leafs hockey history. More

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