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Canadian gold exposes dance divide

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Canadian gold exposes dance divide
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Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (CAN) skate during the figure skating free dance program

Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter at @mrogersyahoo

VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Finally Canada owned the podium and in this instance at least, the Americans were happy to let them have it.

As Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's hometown heroics came under scrutiny with controversy raging over ice dance's complicated judging system, the Canadian team's primary source of support came from south of the border.

"Tessa and Scott did an incredible job," said Tanith Belbin, who finished fourth with Ben Agosto. "It is very exciting for them and for Canada to win a gold medal at home and there aren't many people who deserve this more."

There was somewhat less graciousness from other athletes, including Italy's Massimo Scali and Russia's Maxim Shabalin.

"When you compete in your home country the crowd goes crazy and it can help the skaters," said Scali, who placed fifth with his partner Federica Faiella. "I hope that it does not affect the judges.

"I don't agree with the system. They [Virtue and Moir] are not real dancers. They are very technical and don't really 'dance' on the ice."

Bronze medalist Shabalin, who along with partner Oksana Domnina finished third in Monday's free dance, also questioned the result, but there was nothing but support from Belbin and Agosto, and runners-up Meryl Davis and Charlie White, also Americans.

"The Canadians are our friends and it is an incredible achievement for them to win a gold medal," White said. "The atmosphere of the crowd was amazing and they reacted to them. They are worthy winners."

Virtue and Moir captured the hearts of the Pacific Coliseum audience with a sensational performance, which clinched victory by just under six points from Davis and White.

It was a perfect Monday night for Canada, rousing hopes of a big second week for the host nation after some difficult times in the early days of the Winter Olympics that threatened to make a mockery of the Own the Podium campaign.

The Canadians had a movement and elegance and a togetherness that comes from competing with each other ever since Moir was 8 years old and Virtue was 6. It also was an emotional night all around and Moir raised the nationalistic fervor by pumping the air and leaping into the crowd like a hockey star who had just clinched a shootout victory.

While Davis and White are in the infancy of their careers and have a bright future ahead of them, this is likely to be the end for Belbin and Agosto, the Torino silver medalists who came so close to more hardware.

Shabalin and Domnina, the European champions, won't be in Sochi, Russia, in four years time either, and clearly felt their final chance had been taken from them.

"We skated the best performance and we have a bronze medal," Shabalin said. "What can you do? We did everything we could."

The tantalizing prospect of a home success lit up an ice dance program that might otherwise have lacked the excitement of the individual figure skating competitions.

Virtue and Moir are a golden couple, and cemented a place in Canadian sports history with their performance. Ice dance is an odd sport, heavily subjective, and many of the factors that lead to victory will never be understood by the average fan.

But no one cared about that in Canada on this night, as the chance to flex those dwindling muscles of national pride was more than sufficient to keep the locals content.