HELSINKI (AFP) - Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir hit a new high with an electrifying Prince-inspired short dance putting them on the brink of a third gold at the world figure skating championships on Friday (March 31).
Competing in their first worlds since 2013, the returning Canadians had the Hartwall Arena crowd on their feet after skating to "Kiss", "Five Women" and "Purple Rain".
It earned the 2010 Olympic champions a first-place score of 82.43 - bettering their own all time best by 1.93 - and left two-time holders Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France a distant second with 76.89.
The three-time European champions have a mountain to climb to make up the 5.5-point gap in Saturday's free dance final.
Three American couples - Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, Madison Chock and Evan Bates and brother-and-sister Maia and Alex Shibutani - are placed just behind the French.
"I felt really electrocuted, there was so much energy going through my body," said 29-year-old Moir.
"With all the pressure of the comeback and the Olympics coming up, we really just wanted to enjoy ourselves.
"It's great to have a 20-year partnership and still enjoy going out there every day." Virtue and Moir are looking to add to their titles in 2010 and 2012, but have not competed in worlds since taking silver in 2013.
They took two years off following their silver at the 2014 Sochi Games and have been unbeatable as they returned this season in a bid to recapture gold in Pyeongchang next year.
"It's nice to end the season with a season's best for sure but it was just so much fun," said 27-year-old Virtue.
"The reason behind this comeback was to challenge ourselves. The competition is top notch so we needed to raise the level of our skating.
"We have an idea where out skating is going and 2018 is the ultimate goal." And Moir warned: "We are really excited to do our free (programme) tomorrow. It's very technical and pretty demanding, so we have to be on our game.
"I hope what you are going to see is a deeper connection between Tessa and I." The top three couples all train together in Montreal under the same coaching team of Romain Haguenauer and former ice dancers Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon.
And Haguenauer said he was perplexed by the difference in technical scores achieved by the top two teams despite Cizeron making an error on a twizzle in their "Blues" and "Swing" routine.
"It's strange to see such a difference (in scores) between the best two ice dance pairs in the world," said Haguenauer.
"It's a pity because it kills the competition a bit." Meanwhile, the championship continues on Friday with Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva poised to seal her second straight women's gold.