NEWS
04/01/2017 12:15 EDT | Updated 04/02/2018 01:12 EDT

Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir win third world figure skating championship

HELSINKI — Scott Moir's near-tumble to the ice in the free dance on Saturday elicited a loud gasp from the crowd at Hartwell Arena — and a spur-of-the-moment joke from partner Tessa Virtue.

Their gorgeous program could have gone south in a hurry, their run at gold could have looked more like silver. But the Canadians recovered as if nothing had happened.

Moir said Virtue was to thank for her swift wit. 

"Thank God my partner is awesome," Moir said. "She had a really funny joke as soon as I got back up that snapped me back into character. She said, 'That was a very dramatic movement.' I kind of smiled out of the corner of my mouth. I thought that that was super-cute. She gave me a couple more of these (arm squeezes) during the program.

"She really lifted me up today. It's a lot of fun to be able to do that after 20 years."

Canada's ice dance darlings captured their third world figure skating title Saturday, and remain unbeaten in what's been a remarkable comeback after a two-year hiatus.

"We've never had a quote-unquote perfect season, never had that kind of run of golds, and at this point it's fun to have on our resume," Virtue said. "But more than that, what we've been able to accomplish personally as athletes has been the most satisfying."

The two were otherwise virtually flawless, scoring 116.19 for their lyrical program to "Pilgrims on a Long Journey" by French Canadian artist Coeur de pirate, and Sam Smith's "Latch." They scored 198.62 points overall.

France's two-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who train with Virtue and Moir in Montreal, claimed silver with 196.04, while American siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani claimed bronze, the only medal the U.S. team is taking home from Helsinki.

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., finished fourth with a score of 184.81, missing the medal podium by just 0.37 points.

"Story of my life," Weaver said. "We've had many years of close calls, between not making the Olympic team (in 2010) by .3, missing a world gold by .02, it's by fractions of a point. But this field I think is the strongest that it's been in years.

"So to be where we are is incredible and I respect the other skaters so much, what everyone is putting out is so different and unique and creative. And we're very happy to be part of this group that's leading the way in ice dance."

Toronto's Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., were eighth with 178.99 points.

Virtue, a 27-year-old from London, Ont., and 29-year-old Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., survived their mishap thanks largely to their world-record score in the short dance that sent them in Saturday with a huge 5.5-point cushion — ice dancing's version of giving Usain Bolt a head start in the 100 metres.

The couple of self-proclaimed perfectionists were subdued in the "kiss and cry" after, Moir repeatedly running a hand through his hair.

"It's not the way we thought we would win. Maybe that was part of the reaction (after the skate), but we're so excited and it means a lot to us," Virtue said.

A fall — or even a near-fall — is so rare for the Canadians, Virtue said they'll "go home and do their homework and make sure that doesn't happen at the Olympics."

"These lessons is what it's all about, to be honest. That's why we came back to the sport," Moir added. "It's not always a fairytale. We're very, very proud of this, very proud to be representing Canada, and just to be on the ice together at a world championship. In a couple of weeks I'm going to look back and think about how much fun it was to feel that much pressure again."

The fierce competition set the stage for what could be a dog-fight of an Olympic season. Virtue and Moir haven't been shy in stating their goal is to reclaim Olympic gold after losing to longtime American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White in 2014 in Sochi. 

"I wouldn't expect anything else," Virtue said. "And I think we didn't want to walk into any other situation. And I think this does set us up really nicely. I think it's good for the sport. It's great that Gabrielle and Guillaume are rewarded for the brilliant program that they did.

"It doesn't really change our plan, though. I think this was all about simulating the feelings that we'll have next year, learning to compete again, using our team that's around us and practising how to be our best. This season for all of those purposes has been invaluable."

Earlier Saturday, Toronto's Patrick Chan missed the medal podium in the men's competition. The three-time world champion finished fifth, falling two spots after Saturday's free program.

Chan, who was fifth last year in Boston, scored 193.04 points for his program to "A Journey," a piece of music written by Canadian pairs skater Eric Radford, finishing with 295.16 points overall.

Japan's Olympic gold medallist Yuzuru Hanyu landed four quads for a world-record free skate score of 223.30 points and a total of 321.59 points to take gold after entering the day fifth.

Japan's Shoma Uno (319.31) won silver, while China's Jin Boyang (303.58.) took bronze. 

Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., was ninth with a score of 253.84.