Vancouver Sun

STILL DANC­ING TO­WARD PER­FEC­TION

Canada flag-bear­ers Virtue and Moir came back for more than Olympic gold

- DAN BARNES dbarnes@post­media.com Twit­ter.com/sports­dan­barnes Sports · Pink Floyd · Vancouver · Pyongyang · Charlie White · Michigan · Montreal · France · Cirque du Soleil · Tessa Virtue · Scott Moir · Skate Canada · Gene Kelly · Meryl Davis · Gabriella Papadakis · Guillaume Cizeron

There is no sim­ple sum­ming up of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

They have long been more than their medals, their scores, their sig­na­ture lifts. Over two decades they be­came Canada’s longest­last­ing ice dance cou­ple and its most dec­o­rated.

Then they com­pli­cated mat­ters by ba­si­cally re­mak­ing them­selves for this come­back; in­ject­ing ice dance with an ever more ob­vi­ous ath­leti­cism that acts as a pow­er­ful com­ple­ment to the dis­ci­pline’s artsy fartsy side. And they took what they learned about show­man­ship while on tour dur­ing their post- Sochi hia­tus and blended that into their pro­grams.

“I would say they’re prob­a­bly one of the most in­no­va­tive teams that has been in dance in a long time, you know,” Skate Canada high per­for­mance di­rec­tor Mike Slipchuk said. “They weren’t do­ing the same lifts ev­ery year. They were work­ing on a unique move. That’s them push­ing the dance en­ve­lope and push­ing them­selves.

“They’ve done so many dif­fer­ent styles of pro­grams,” he con­tin­ued. “Ev­ery­thing from the clas­si­cal free dance to Pink Floyd. To Gene Kelly. To Car­men. That is what’s spe­cial about them. They can go out and try dif­fer­ent gen­res and re­ally bring them to life, and not a lot of ath­letes can do that in any dis­ci­pline.

“If you look at their stamp on skat­ing, the re­sults speak for them­selves. But every­one will have a favourite pro­gram of theirs and a lot of dif­fer­ent ones. That’s a tes­ta­ment to what they’ve done.”

The re­sults sheets speak of gold at the Van­cou­ver Olympics, sil­ver in Sochi, three world ti­tles, a Grand Prix fi­nal win, eight na­tional ti­tles. The re­sults are loud and clear.

Virtue and Moir are much less bois­ter­ous, par­tic­u­larly on the topic of their sport­ing le­gacy. They aren’t overly fo­cused on it, ei­ther, even this close to what should be their fi­nal Olympics.

“I don’t know about our mark on fig­ure skat­ing. Maybe I will when I’m an old and wise man,” said Moir, who is plenty savvy at age 30.

“It’s so hard to size up your own ca­reer. That’s al­ready a big­ger com­pli­ment than I would give our­selves,” he said, when it was sug­gested they changed their dis­ci­pline for the bet­ter.

“But we al­ways say we’d like to be re­mem­bered for be­ing good peo­ple more than any­thing. Hope­fully, peo­ple think we’re pretty good ice dancers but more im­por­tantly, good peo­ple. We were pretty lucky to be Cana­di­ans com­ing up in a good sport sys­tem and hav­ing the op­por­tu­ni­ties that we had. We be­lieve in what sport has to of­fer.

“And maybe that we en­cour­aged a cou­ple of young ath­letes to take up any sport, to do some­thing that was maybe a lit­tle un­usual, to fol­low their pas­sion. That would be the two big­gest things it would be nice to be re­mem­bered for.”

That’s pretty typ­i­cal mod­esty from these two, and it’s gen­uine. They back it up at ev­ery com­pe­ti­tion. De­spite their lengthy ten­ure at the top, there is no swag­ger, un­less the pro­gram calls for it on the ice.

And they didn’t come back from re­tire­ment two years ago to ce­ment their le­gacy. Of course, they want to win in Pyeongchan­g, but not be­cause they fin­ished sec­ond in Sochi to their Amer­i­can friends and for­mer train­ing part­ners Meryl Davis and Char­lie White.

They missed the sport, the com­pe­ti­tion, the per­sonal chal­lenge.

So they moved their train­ing base from Michi­gan to Mon­treal, as­sem­bled a sup­port team headed by for­mer Cana­dian ice dancers Marie-France Dubreuil and Pa­trice Lau­zon, and chal­lenged one another to be bet­ter.

“We were so happy to get back to that struc­ture of a train­ing sched­ule and thrilled to be pur­su­ing these goals we are in­vest­ing in, the com­mon goals that we share,” said Virtue, who is 28. “I think it’s more about the per­sonal feel­ing we get when we’re able to per­form a pro­gram the way we’ve en­vi­sioned it, or all that train­ing pays off and we’re able to ex­e­cute some­thing on com­pet­i­tive ice. I mean, that’s what feeds us.”

They have worked with Cirque du soleil ac­ro­bats, seek­ing to put a sig­na­ture twist on mounts and lifts. Virtue and Moir fans will surely re­mem­ber The Goose from Van­cou­ver. She bal­anced her­self on one foot, on his right thigh. This year, they have in­cor­po­rated a flip. Virtue turns and flips for­ward into his arms, end­ing up with her legs around his neck.

“Com­ing up with in­no­va­tive tricks has be­come more and more dif­fi­cult given the re­stric­tions of the rules, but it’s a chal­lenge we em­brace,” Virtue said.

They won Skate Canada and the NHK Tro­phy with that bag of tricks, then fin­ished sec­ond to Gabriella Pa­padakis and Guil­laume Cize­ron of France — their cur­rent train­ing mates in Mon­treal — at the Grand Prix Fi­nal. It was their first loss of the come­back. They know, again, that they have to be just a lit­tle bet­ter in Pyeongchan­g, where they will be Canada’s flag-bear­ers for the open­ing cer­e­mony.

That’s why they came back. They have tweaked things all year, and will surely do so again for the Olympics.

“In this judg­ing sys­tem you can take ad­van­tage of that re­port card, so we are con­stantly look­ing at it, get­ting feed­back and mak­ing im­prove­ments,” said Moir. “We want to get re­ally close to a per­fect score­sheet at the Olympic Games. That’s what we think we’ll need to be on top of the podium.”

 ?? JONATHAN HAY­WARD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS ?? Cana­dian ice dance dar­lings Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir en­ter the Pyeongchan­g Olympics with noth­ing left to prove fol­low­ing a gold medal at the Van­cou­ver Games and sil­ver at Sochi in 2014, but the de­sire to com­pete and suc­ceed still burns in­side them.
JONATHAN HAY­WARD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS Cana­dian ice dance dar­lings Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir en­ter the Pyeongchan­g Olympics with noth­ing left to prove fol­low­ing a gold medal at the Van­cou­ver Games and sil­ver at Sochi in 2014, but the de­sire to com­pete and suc­ceed still burns in­side them.
 ?? NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS ?? Af­ter be­ing sil­ver medal­lists at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Cana­dian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are back for another go-round, ea­ger to take on the world’s best teams.
NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS Af­ter be­ing sil­ver medal­lists at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, Cana­dian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are back for another go-round, ea­ger to take on the world’s best teams.
 ?? JONATHAN HAY­WARD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS ?? Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will leave with a le­gacy as two of the most in­no­va­tive skaters ever.
JONATHAN HAY­WARD/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will leave with a le­gacy as two of the most in­no­va­tive skaters ever.
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