STILL DANCING TOWARD PERFECTION
Canada flag-bearers Virtue and Moir came back for more than Olympic gold
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.”