The grey heads in the arena outnumbered the ponytails approximately 10 to one. The music echoing in Mississauga's Hershey Centre was more Chuck Berry than Justin Bieber. The ice dancers competing on the rink below wore polka-dots and billowy shirts and used words like "super-dee-duper."
Few tuning into the ice dance portion of the 2013 Canadian Tire National Figure Skating Championships would call the sport cool. Yet, according to one of the greatest ice dance teams on the planet, Canadian kids are picking it up more than ever before.
"The kids are just great skaters all around, and I think that's why [Canada is] going to be such a force to be reckoned with in ice dance," said Scott Moir, before he and his partner, Tessa Virtue, won their fifth straight ice national dance title.
It's world and Olympic champions Virtue and Moir who have inspired a generation of youngsters to don skates and dance the polka.
On Sunday, the duo roused a sold-out crowd to its feet with a sizzling free program, set to music from the opera Carmen, earning a combined score of 187.19 to easily clinch the title over runners-up Piper Gilles and Paul Porier (170.81). Nicole Orford and Thomas Williams earned bronze with 152.56.
"Success breeds success," said figure skating coach and CBC commentator Pj Kwong. "You're seeing the little guys … because they're seeing [success in ice dance] as possible. Before Virtue and Moir, and [their current American rivals] Meryl Davis and Charlie White … there were very few examples of North American success."
However, just a year out from the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, and six weeks before the world championships in their hometown of London, the Canadian champions still have some work cut out for them.
For the second time this season, judges docked the team points for holding two of their three lifts for too long (if skaters hold their lifts even a fraction of a second beyond the limit – six seconds or 12 seconds, depending on the lift – they are docked points.
After their program, Moir joked, "I need a stopwatch out there," but he also called their technical score unacceptable if they are going to defeat their American rivals, White and Davis, in London.
"Obviously that's a cause for concern, because that's what we've been working on a lot," Moir said.
"To be honest, we were kind of excited because that was an awesome skate for us. … It would be nice to have a big number to go home and work off of."
Canada's other world champion, Patrick Chan, also finished the weekend dissatisfied. He easily won his sixth straight national title, although not without some of the same difficulties that have characterized his a less-than-stellar season so far. Chan said he was "disappointed" after his free program, particularly a tumble on one of his quads. Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., who finished second, nailed several quads. Andrei Rogozine of Richmond Hill, Ont., finished third.
In pairs, with two spots at worlds up for grabs, reigning champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford captured a second straight title, in a close-fought battle with challengers Kristen Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch.
In women's singles competition, a trio of teens bumped reigning 24-year-old Canadian champion, Amélie Lacoste, off the podium. Champion Kaetlyn Osmond, the 17-year-old pride of Marystown, N.L., beat silver-medalist Gabrielle Daleman, who turned 15 last Sunday. Alaine Chartrand, 16, finished third. Only Osmond will represent Canada six weeks from now in London.
For Virtue and Moir, at least, the scores aren't dissuading them from their daring free program, which has caused ripples in the skating world for its difficulty and sensual tone, a departure from their sweetheart image.
"Because we wanted to challenge ourselves, and because we went out on a bit of a limb this year, I think we have to stand by it. We're still excited about the material," Virtue said.
"We're right where we want to be. This is where we take off."
Moir agreed. "Is the risk is worth it? We definitely think it is. As Tessa says, we wouldn't be skating if we were just going to play it safe and do the same tricks every year."