114C-SD-0661-VM-RRThe 2011 ISU Four Continents Championships opened with the short dance Thursday afternoon, and, as expected, Canadians Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir and Americans Meryl Davis & Charlie White are in a close battle to claim the top spot on the podium.

Although they won neither the TES (that went to fellow Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje, who sit in third) nor the PCS (Davis & White claimed top score in this), Virtue & Moir made their season debut with 69.40, enough to put them in first place in the short dance. Only their first element, the non-touching midline step sequence, was ranked level 3; the other four required elements were called level 4. The midline earned the highest GOE, +1.86. Out of the 45 GOE given, the lowest the reigning Olympic and World Champions received were three base 0s. Their PCS were mostly in the 8s, although one judge gave them only 5.25 to 5.50.

Right on their heels with a score of 69.01, Davis & White had a bit of a rough skate (for them). Davis had a rare error on the opening twizzles, but the overall quality of the element was high enough that some judges still netted them a positive GOE. They received the identical score on their midline as Virtue & Moir — a level 3 with +1.86 GOE. A level 3 for the first section of the Golden Waltz cost Davis & White a full base point, but their GOE for both segments was +.93. All five Program Component Scores netted a higher total than the Canadians’ with most of the individual marks in the 8s and 9s.

The only team to snag level 4s for all of their elements, Weaver & Poje stand in third with 65.45, 36.5 of that coming from their first-place TES. Four base 0s were the lowest GOE, with the remainder split between +1s and +2s. They toppled their ISU season best score by six points, giving them a nearly four-point lead over Canadian rivals Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier. At the Canadian Championships last month, Weaver & Poje trailed by 0.16 after the short dance. With third-place PCS in Taipei, they are in good position to hold onto the bronze, but need to be nearly perfect in their free dance to hold the spot ahead of Crone & Poirier’s Christopher Dean-choreographed score-grabber.

Hoping to knock them off that third step is a pair of North Americans who also broke 60 points. Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani from the U.S. are currently fourth with 62.04, while Canadians Vanessa Crone & Paul Poirier are fifth with 61.66.

Wearing new costumes, the Shibutanis earned level 4s on everything except their midline, which was called a level 3. None of their elements received negative GOE, with the “worst” being a trio of base 0s. They ranked fourth in the TES and fifth in the PCS, and their score of 62.04 is nearly six points higher than their ISU season’s best. Some odd GOE for their opening twizzle sequence: one judge saw it as a +3 while two others saw it as a base 0.

Like Davis & White, Crone & Poirier also received level 3s on their midline and the first sequence of the Golden Waltz. Their GOE had four base 0 and the rest a mix of +1s and +2s and their Program Component Scores averaged around seven points. Throughout the season Crone & Poirier have done better in their free dance than the short dance, so the reigning Canadian champions are still in the thick of things.

With only 12 teams competing, the warm up groups have four teams in each rather than the usual five. Americans Madison Chock & Greg Zuerlein drew the unfortunate spot of first in the second group. Eight and a half points from the podium makes for a big deficit to overcome in the free dance, but it’s not impossible. A blown twizzle sequence really hurt them in the short dance and having the first section of the Golden Waltz called only a level 2 cost them two base points of start value. They are in sixth (and were sixth in both TES and PCS) with 57.14.

Chinese teams take the next three spots in seventh through ninth. Xintong Huang & Xun Zheng have 52.93, Xiaoyang Yu & Chen Wang have 50.58, and Xueting Guan & Meng Wang round out the trio with 42.77.

Australia’s Danielle O’Brien & Gregory Merriman are right behind in 10th with 42.67. Corenne Bruhns & Benjamin Westenberger, who represent Mexico, have 40.68. The second Aussie team, Maria Borounov & Evgeni Borounov, go into Friday’s free skate with 28.52.