Child's play leads to golden opportunity

VANCOUVER Fri Feb 19, 2010 2:14pm EST

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were only 7 and 9 when they teamed up in 1997 but 13 years later they have the opportunity to become the first North American couple to win Olympic ice dancing gold.

"We're so lucky to have grown up together, and to have grown up skating together," says 20-year old Virtue. "Not many people get to chance to compete on home soil -- we have to embrace it and own it."

Virtue's 22-year old partner Moir says from the moment he heard Vancouver had won the Olympic bid seven years ago, the timing for the duo could not have been more perfect.

"For a long time, everything has been building up to this.

We feel like we are so ready and we just got to go out there and deliver."

The Canadian champions, who earned a bronze medal at the 2009 World championships, are the favorites heading into Friday's compulsory dance.

Known as innovators, the pair will have to overcome reigning world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin.

The Russian duo's performance in the original dance at the World Championships caused an uproar after Australian Aboriginals found the dance offensive.

Virtue and Moir, who will be dancing the Spanish Flamenco, say they have paid no attention to the controversy.

"We're just worried about ourselves. We were fortunate enough to be teamed up with authentic flamenco dancers and have learned from the best," says Virtue. "You have to stay true to the culture."

(Editing by Jon Bramley)

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