By Steve Keating
LONDON, Ontario (Reuters) - Olympic and world ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will enjoy home ice advantage this week as they defend their world championship crown but the Canadians will do their best to try and pretend they are somewhere else.
Having grown up in Ilderton, just minutes from the 7,000-seat London arena that will host the championships, it is unlikely the Canadian pair will be able to forget where they are with a sign declaring "Home of Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, Olympic and world ice dance champions" there to remind them.
"We feel like we're the luckiest kids, we got a home Olympics and now we're getting a hometown world championships which is virtually unheard of," Moir told reporters. "Our job as athletes is to treat it as a normal worlds as much as possible... we're going to try to do little tricks to make us feel that we are not at home in London, Ontario.
"But we'll definitely feel that support when we're on the ice and we'll try and use that in a positive way."
Competing at home represents a double-edged sword for the Olympic champions, who know they will have to be razor sharp if they are to see off the challenge from their long-time American rivals and training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
On one hand, Virtue and Moir are sure to get a boost from a hometown crowd that will be squarely in their corner but on the other must deal with the distractions of family and friends while trying to maintain their routine.
While there may indeed be no place like home, this week Moir and Virtue will not sleep in their own beds or enjoy home cooked meals.
"We're not staying at our homes even though we are just 15 minutes down the road," said Virtue. "Staying at the hotel, taking the bus to the rink, eating in the skaters room at the hotel, those kind of things all make a difference, just separating ourselves from our family and friends so we can get in that competition zone we tend to get in."
Virtue and Moir have certainly enjoyed success on the road, winning medals at five successive world championships dating back to 2008. They captured gold last year in France and in Italy in 2010. They also picked up silvers in Russia (2011) and Sweden (2008) and a bronze in Los Angeles (2009).
But they also know how to get the job done on home ice after taking top spot on the podium at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and collecting five national titles.
"There is pressure to perform and be at your best in front of your home country let alone your home town but Tessa and I pride ourselves on being professionals so we can rely on our experience and the experience of the Vancouver Olympics where we had to kind of get into our bubble," explained Moir.
"We want that title, we just have to think about doing our job and hopefully the crowd will enjoy it as much as we do."
Virtue and Moir and Davis and White have dominated the ice dance scene taking the top two spots at the last three worlds and Vancouver Olympics.
While the Americans had to settle for silver behind the Canadians at the 2010 Winter Games and again at last year's worlds, Davis and White have had the better of their good friends this season finishing in first place ahead of their training partners at the Grand Prix final and Four Continents.
If Virtue and Moir are to extend their reign at the worlds, it is likely to hinge on their innovative free dance that judges have yet to totally embrace.
Putting their own unique spin on the Italian opera Carmen, the Canadians have pushed the ice dance envelope with the smoldering routine and paid the price with mixed marks.
"We really did set out to make an ambitious program this year and I think we were very successful achieving that goal but it can be frustrating when you push it early in the season," said Moir. "I guess one of the signs of a really tough program, a good program, is that it might not get rewarded right away.
"It can be trying on your patience because you are not getting rewarded... but this is the time of year when it starts to pay off."
(Editing by Pritha Sarkar)