TORONTO - Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir work out regularly with Maria Mountain, but when they head to her London, Ont., gym before next week's world figure skating championships, the trainer plans to make herself scarce.
It's all about keeping a world championship routine when that championship is in their own backyard.
"Usually we do a workout when we're on the road, and it's always challenging to find space and the right equipment when you're in some foreign country," Virtue said on a conference call Tuesday.
"And here, (Mountain) is right in downtown London. So we were saying, 'OK, we'll come in and work out with you to do our travel workout.' She said, 'Absolutely you can use the space but I don't know if I want to be here.' Because she usually isn't.
"She's a little bit superstitious, she also doesn't want to throw off our routine."
The 23-year-old Virtue is from London, while Moir, 25, is from Ilderton — just a few minutes up the street.
And now the ice dancers who have won world medals in Sweden, the U.S., Italy, Russia and France, will be gunning for gold at the Budweiser Gardens.
The key to approaching the hometown event, they said, is to pretend it's anything but.
"Even just staying in the hotel is one thing, not to stay at our homes even though it's just five minutes down the road or 15 minutes down the road," Virtue said. "Staying in the hotel to get in that environment, taking the bus to the rink, eating in the skaters' room at the hotel. That all makes a difference, and sort of separating ourselves from our family and friends just so that we can find that competition zone that we tend to get in."
There will be more than a few family members and friends in attendance. Virtue and Moir grew up training at the Ilderton arena. There are four entry signs to the city of about 2,000, depending on which direction one enters the town, that welcome travellers to the "Home of Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, Olympic and world ice dance champions." On the Ilderton website, there's a link to the "Tessa & Scott local interest page."
"I think Skate Canada may have to give me about 1,500 tickets if I was going to be taking care of all my friends and family," Moir said laughing.
Virtue and Moir are hoping to rebound from a disappointing Four Continents championships in Japan last month. The two finished runners-up to American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White, their hopes at gold likely disappearing when they had to halt their free dance. Virtue's leg cramped up about three minutes into their sultry "Carmen" program.
Rules allow skaters to stop their program for three minutes for an injury, but when Canadians resumed skating, they were "just trying to hang on for the last minute," Moir said.
"I don't know if anybody here has had a leg cramp, but I know when I have one I can barely get up off the washroom floor in the middle of the night," he added. "So to finish a free dance isn't the easiest thing. We'll be looking in London to make up those four or five points in the end of the program when we're really pushing it and really bringing the crowd off of their feet."
Virtue, who has struggled with leg problems for years, twice undergoing surgery to alleviate compartment syndrome, said the cramp was largely due to hard training.
"We were really pushing it in training, we were really trying to improve on our speed and power and the intensity of our training sessions had increased significantly," she said. "And while that's a great thing because we just wanted it so badly, I think we forgot to take care of the details that we found in the past couple of years that make us feel good and healthy and let our bodies recover a little bit.
"It was a cumulative effect. . . the jet lag and hydration and everything like that, it's multifaceted. We're always learning about our bodies and learning how to take care of them properly and how to perform at our best. Luckily we've been able to spin it as a positive thing and I think these last few weeks have been better because of that. So we can only feel confident heading into the world championships."
Virtue and Moir skate their short dance on March 14 and the free dance on March 16.