Toronto Star

Virtue, Moir hope change brings a familiar result

- Rosie DiManno

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir know — and don’t much like — that second-place feeling.

Rare as second-best has been in the two decades they’ve been cutting a chasse swath through the world of competitiv­e ice dancing.

Gold becomes them much more fetchingly.

So silver at the Sochi Olympics left a taste of ashes, when they were outdazzled by American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Though of course the Canadians already have an Olympic gold in the trophy étagère from Vancouver. And triple world gold, as of 2017. And seven national titles.

They’re kinda great at this. But not quite gold-good enough at the Grand Prix finals last month, when they placed second behind France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron despite a season-best free dance score. The Gallic duo also happens to train alongside the Canadians in Montreal. They all keep a beady eye on each other as friendly rivals.

Sochi silver is what they set out to avenge when last year returning to the competitio­n circuit. The GP outcome, Virtue and Moir are confident, was a mere speed bump on that that PyeongChan­g-bound journey — if instructiv­e.

“We were pretty open that we don’t plan on coming second at the Olympics like we did at Grand Prix finals,” Moir said last week. “So we kind of went back to the drawing board. A couple of big changes that we’re really excited about.”

Those changes, primarily to their Moulin Rouge free program, will be unpacked for public scrutiny at the Canadian championsh­ips in Vancouver this weekend.

Frankly, it’s a race for second among Canada’s other ice dance tandems, although there are couples worthy of the top five globally who will be splendid successors to Virtue and Moir as they approach — for real this time — the end of the road. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje twice waltzed and mamboed and flamenco’d and hip-hopped to Canadian titles whilst Virtue and Moir were on furlough, adding back-to-back GP championsh­ips to their medal trove as well.

Canadians are simply ice dancers extraordin­aire, which is why so many internatio­nal teams seek the tutelage of Canadian coaches who themselves have fared well in the sport. Which is what drew Virtue and Moir to the husband-wife team of Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, five-time Canadian champions.

“The whole plan is peaking in February,” says Virtue, 28, explaining that Canadians are the last stepping stone before South Korea. “But we also need to make a statement. We need to come out strong, with guns blazing, ready to take on the world in February.”

They returned from the Grand Prix final in Japan with a clearer idea of what needed improvemen­t, what needed amending, particular­ly after receiving feedback from judges — this is a weird part of the sport, that those who judge the performanc­e also provide recommenda­tions. “Mostly that’s our coaches’ job,” explains Moir, “to get the feedback for us and then we discuss what we want to do. The biggest part for Tessa and I, where we made the most ground-breaking effort, was when we wanted the tape for ourselves. We’ve had a lot of time in this sport. We know what we want our performanc­es to look like.

“When we looked at our Grand Prix final, we were super happy with our skate. But we know there’s more on the table for us to do. So it’s been a busy month trying to live up to what we want our Olympic performanc­e to look like.”

Reviewing the Grand Prix video, there was one thing in particular that struck the skaters.

“We always talk about how much we enjoy skating,” says Moir. “We felt like we were enjoying it. But we watched some of the tape and it didn’t really translate.”

Thus there were some significan­t adjustment­s to the Moulin Rouge choreograp­hy, with music edits to the second half of the program, while also lading the program with extra flourishes and difficulti­es to crank up their points potential.

“Trying to emphasize more of the duet and the love story,’’ says Virtue, “culminatin­g in a bigger, more theatrical ending. That’s been so refreshing for us. Especially at this point of the season, having trained and performed this program so many times, it’s ingrained in our bodies and we’re so committed to this storyline and we love it. But bringing in some fresh movement, it feels like the program has been reborn. And we’re thrilled with the direction it’s taken. I think it will be hopefully more appealing to the masses.”

It’s also a natural progressio­n, as programs grow throughout the season.

This is a couple that has always pushed the ice dancing envelope, imbuing the sport with both elegance and athleticis­m. And, of course, their own personalit­ies, their own recognizab­le style. With Moulin Rouge, they made a slight pivot. “We really wanted a sleek, modern, contempora­ry aesthetic overall,” says Virtue. “I mean, it’s so emotional and so layered and so nuanced that you feel the spectrum of emotions. There’s aggression, there’s passion, there’s anger, there’s jealousy, there’s love. There’s so much to tell and we’re trying to tell that a little more physically than anything. So, just having various points of departure throughout, incorporat­ing tango movements while also doing the unexpected.

“Okay, what would be the normal approach to this specific beat or this melody? And then trying to go in a different direction. At this point, it seems we’ve sort of establishe­d a particular style of moving on the ice. And we wanted to stay away from that a bit. We wanted to make sure that when we took to the ice for our third Olympic Games, we weren’t the same team — it was a different Tessa and Scott. We’re moving differentl­y, expressing differentl­y, skating differentl­y. And that’s what we continue to strive for.”

Yet they, their choreograp­hers and their coaches also had to be mindful that the skaters still need to be “Tessa and Scott” and stay true to the pith of their being and emphasize quality.

“The tendency now is to try and do so much, especially after our second-place finish at Grand Prix fi- nals,” says Moir, 30. “I think the changes we made are just opening the program up. There were some parts where we just felt suffocated in the movement and that showed on the tape. So, try to open it up and keep it close to our hearts.’’

The 2014 Olympic experience, Moir adds, emboldened them.

“We wanted to make changes (in Sochi) but didn’t have the guts to do so in the middle of the season. I don’t think that’s the case here. We’re really trying to challenge ourselves so that when we look back, we’re not regretting anything.”

They don’t need to prove anything anymore. But leaving the competitiv­e sport with Olympic gold would put a lovely bow on their exceptiona­l career, as the last waltz looms.

“It’s imminent and it’s coming so fast,” says Virtue, with more than a hint of wistfulnes­s.

“It’s hard not to be sentimenta­l at this point in the season and in our careers,” says Virtue. “This whole comeback process has just been so fulfilling and incredibly rewarding. We’ve been trying to embrace it, every bit of it.’’

 ?? GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS ?? Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will have to overcome a second-place finish at the Grand Prix finals.
GRAHAM HUGHES/THE CANADIAN PRESS Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will have to overcome a second-place finish at the Grand Prix finals.
 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada