Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir compete during their short dance. (David Gray/Reuters)

SOCHI, Russia – Defending Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada left room for other competitors to overtake them in the short program Sunday at Sochi’s Iceberg Skating Palace, where the ice dance competition got under way.

Skating 18th among the 24 duo in contention, the Canadians entertained the crowd and were clearly ecstatic with their performance, but judges had quibbles, awarding them 76.33 points—more than one full point off their season’s best marks.

Nonetheless it vaulted them to a commanding lead.

Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the two-time and defending world champions, are scheduled to skate last among the 24 couples. The top 20 will advance to Monday’s free skate. Davis and White are seeking to become the first Americans to win Olympic gold in a discipline long dominated by Russia and former Soviet states.

Earlier Sunday, U.S. silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates topped their season’s best score, earning 65.46 points, which placed them third among the first 18 duos. U.S. bronze medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani also exceeded their previous high marks, scoring 64.47, placing them a provisional fourth. The siblings, whose parents met as musicians while studying at Harvard, skated to a jazzy Michael Buble medley.

The top 20 duos will advance to Monday’s free skate, which will settle the medals. All three American duos made the cut with plenty of room to spare.

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Photos from Day 9 | Daily TV schedule | U.S. medal winners