- Associated Press - Thursday, February 6, 2014

SOCHI, Russia (AP) - Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir aren’t done yet.

They might use the six days between the Olympic figure skating team event and the ice dance competition to tweak their performances based on the reaction of the judges and the crowd. Since their programs have always evolved over the course of a season, they warn not to make predictions for the Sochi Games based on their recent marks.

In other words, just because the Canadians lost to Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White at the Grand Prix Final in early December doesn’t guarantee the same result at the Olympics.

Maybe it’s wishful thinking, or maybe the reigning gold medalists really can polish and perfect their dances to eke out the points to reclaim the top spot in the sport. Davis and White, the 2010 silver medalists and their training partners in Michigan, beat Virtue and Moir at the world championships in March and arrive in Sochi as the favorites.

“We feel like we’re peaking at the right time,” Moir insisted Thursday. “We’re a different team than we even were in December.”

The first hint of whether the Americans still hold the edge comes Saturday when the two rivals are expected to compete in the short dance in the new team event. The free dance is Sunday.

The ice dance competition opens a week later.

Davis and White, also coached by Marina Zoueva, had that golden glitter throughout the Grand Prix season and U.S. Championships. They won by 1.35 points at the Grand Prix Final, an impressive margin against competition the caliber of Virtue and Moir.

“There’s no denying that Meryl and Charlie are always ready, and they’re ready early in the season,” Virtue said. “I think that’s a tribute to their training, and they’re strong competitors. It’s interesting how coming from the same coaching team, we can get there differently.”

For Davis and White, the last four years have been all about moving up that one spot on the podium. No way Virtue and Moir could top what they accomplished in 2010, right? They won gold in their home country, the first Olympic ice dance champions from North America.

“We’re not looking to repeat what we did in Vancouver; it’s going to be completely different. This games is just for us,” Moir said. “We’ve skated the last four years. We have the biggest title in this sport, and we wanted to make sure we pushed ourselves and experimented with the sport.”

They haven’t formally declared retirement plans but acknowledge this is likely their last season. In one breath, each will veer from vowing to embrace the moment at these Olympics to proclaiming they intend to win.

And neither sees anything contradictory in that.

“This is an opportunity to have a moment that is more meaningful than a gold medal, and yet we’re such fierce competitors that of course we want to win,” Virtue said. “That’s the goal; that’s why we’ve been training so hard, and that’s what we think we’re ready to do.”

As Moir explained of their free dance, set to Russian classical music and choreographed to tell the story of their partnership: “It’s a lot more personal than just going out and winning an Olympic gold medal. There’s no mistake that we’re hoping that’s what takes us there, but I think we’re going to get into that space.”

Once the ice dance competition ends, Moir nominates himself to take the injured Steven Stamkos’ spot on the Canadian hockey team. He and Virtue joke to each other about how they’ll be ballroom dancing together when they’re old.

But they don’t want to think about what’s next just yet. Moir had found himself a bit overwhelmed in October by the realization he was probably competing at his last Skate Canada. Zoueva reminded him that the future is unpredictable and uncertain.

One thing he and Virtue know for sure: They want to tell the world that gold is the goal.

“Part of saying that is holding yourself accountable,” Virtue said. “If you say it out loud, you have to back it up.”

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