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HOME AGAIN: Virtue, Moir looking for golden homecoming this week

By Marty Henwood

LONDON, Ont. - Plastered on the pristine facade of Budweiser Gardens is a towering 24-foot banner featuring the four reigning world champions, welcoming the world to this week’s ISU World Figure Skating Championships.
Walking in front of the arena with her mother, a young girl, maybe six years old, points up to the banner and yells excitedly “There’s Tessa and Scott!”

That’s the way it is here in London – a city on a first-name basis with their world and Olympic champions. Both were born in London – Virtue still lives here while Moir resides in Ilderton, about 20 minutes away. Two kids about as close to royalty as one can get in these parts.

With these 2013 world championships in their own backyard, Virtue and Moir, just three years removed from winning Olympic gold on Canadian soil in Vancouver, are ready as an entire city gets set to step on to the ice with them for Thursday’s short dance.
While home may be where the heart is, it is also where distraction lies, and Virtue and Moir have a little business to take care of over the next few days.

“Tessa and I always say we feel like the luckiest kids because we got a home Olympics and now we are getting a hometown world championships, which is virtually unheard of,” says Moir.

“There is that pressure to perform and be at your best in front of your home country, let alone your hometown, but Tessa and I pride ourselves on being professional.

“At the end of the day, this is the world championships for us. We always want these bad. We want that title.”

Along with the autograph requests, front page stories, handshakes and hugs come distractions not needed when preparing to defend a world championship on your home turf. To that end, Virtue and Moir are treating this week as a road trip of sorts – staying at a city hotel, taking the shuttle bus to Budweiser Gardens, eating meals in the athletes’ dining room at the hotel.

For one week, London is their home away from home, if you will.

“That all makes a difference, sort of separating ourselves from our family and friends just so we can find that competition zone that we tend to get in,” says Virtue. “We know we’re at home, we know our surroundings – we’re just trying to have an open dialogue about that, to re-focus our energy and our attention to the task at hand.”

London is ready to lift the lid off a sold-out Budweiser Gardens, which will no doubt give Virtue and Moir an extra boost of adrenaline. At the same time, it could also put unwanted pressure on their shoulders as the defending champions look to fend off charges from those looking to take their title, the biggest threat which will likely come from their training partners - Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

In order to climb to the top step of the podium following Saturday’s free dance, Virtue and Moir know they need to tune everything else out.

“Our goal, and kind of our job as athletes, will be to treat this as a normal worlds as much as possible, just like we did in Vancouver,” admits Moir, referring to their routine in Vancouver. “We’re going to try to do little tricks to make us feel like we’re not at home in London, but we’ll definitely feel that support when we’re out on the ice. We’re really excited; it should be a great week.”

Now, the dress rehearsals are done. It’s showtime. At the dawn of this season, Virtue and Moir wanted to be in full stride once London rolled around, and everything has gone according to plan.

“We’re just building the momentum and our programs are better than they’ve been all year,” says Virtue. “The plan was to peak at worlds, and I think we’re right on track.

“With a hometown world championships, you want to feel prepared so you can take those opportunities to really enjoy the experience and embrace the energy of the crowd.”

Given the buzz in London right now, that shouldn’t be much of a problem.