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Canadians Virtue-Moir take ice-dancing gold

VANCOUVER, British Columbia - Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir brought the house down at the Pacific Coliseum.

Knocked the Russians right off their traditional spot atop the ice dance podium, too.

Virtue and Moir won the Olympic gold medal in ice dance last night, a first for the Canadians - heck, for anybody in North America. For only the third time since ice dance became an Olympic sport in 1976, a Russian or Soviet couple did not win the dance gold.

The Russians couldn't even win the silver, either. That went to two-time U.S. champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, giving the United States back-to-back dance medals for the first time. Davis and White's silver was the 25th medal won by the United States, matching its record set in 2006 for medals won at a non-domestic Winter Olympics.

The Americans are guaranteed of passing that, because the U.S. women's hockey team can do no worse than a silver medal.

Reigning world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia were third. Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, silver medalists at the 2006 Olympics, were fourth.

Virtue's jaw dropped when she saw their overall score of 221.57 and Moir jumped to his feet, screaming almost as loudly as the crowd that was shattering the decibel meter. With Davis and White, second after the original dance, already done, Virtue and Moir knew the gold was all but theirs.

Virtue and Moir's program was tender and sensual, like a married couple who has stolen away for a romantic evening. Their gentle, slow start showcased their skating skills, their edges so quiet and smooth they appeared to float above the ice. Make no mistake, though, there was plenty of strength behind that softness.

They had as much power and speed as those hockey players Moir likes so much, but it was displayed with balletic grace. Their combination spin seemed to go on forever, with many different positions and edge changes.

And their lifts, oh my. Virtue looked almost angelic on one, balancing on Moir's right thigh with her arms outstretched while he stayed in a deep-knee spread eagle before flipping her down into his arms.

While Virtue and Moir were all softness and grace, Davis and White's "Phantom of the Opera" was big and bold, as powerful as any Broadway production. They skated perfectly to their music, flying across the ice in the fast part and using deep edges to convey romance and lyricism in the slow parts.

Their lifts were akin to stunt tricks, done at breakneck speed - yet with perfect control. In one, White flipped Davis over his shoulder so she faced the opposite direction. He then picked up his right leg and crossed it behind him as she opened her arms, that platform-like leg of his the only thing keeping her from plunging to the ice.

Their only flaw was a deduction, likely for an extended lift. But it wouldn't have made a difference in the final results.

Domnina and Shabalin's routine was very theatrical and highly entertaining. But ice dance has moved way beyond the theater it was 10 years ago. The sport now requires good, old-fashioned skating skills, power and innovation, and Domnina and Shabalin didn't quite have it.

New York Sports