Virtue and Moir finally back on the ice together at Canadian championships.
TSN // 2009
For several weeks this past fall, when Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir
should have been side by side, training diligently for the upcoming
figure skating season, Virtue was in London, Ont., rehabilitating an
injury while Moir was in Detroit, skating with a sandbag, a poor
substitute for his longtime dance partner.
Virtue and Moir, who won silver at the world championships last spring in Sweden, are finally making their season debut at the Canadian championships this week, and if they took nothing else from the past few trying months, they’ve learned they’re much better together than they are apart.
“It was awkward for Tessa and I because we were in different cities and still training, and still thinking of that goal (2010 Vancouver Olympics) in the back of our head,” Moir said. “We had never been apart since we were seven and nine (years old), so it was definitely a little bit of a trying time for us. Training was a lot different, but mostly we must missed the personal relationship.”
Virtue, from London, and Moir, from nearby Ilderton, Ont., showed no signs of rust from their months apart on Wednesday night, when they opened the championships by winning the compulsory dance portion at the Credit Union Centre.
Virtue, 19, had surgery in early October for compartment syndrome, a condition that caused chronic pain in her shins. The surgery involved slicing open the sheath that surrounds the muscle – much like unzipping a sleeve – to give the muscle room to expand. She was forced to stay off her skates for two months, spending her days doing physiotherapy and pilates and receiving massage. She’s only been back on the ice for the past six weeks.
Meanwhile, Moir’s unorthodox training sessions had him skating with every makeshift partner his coaches Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva could dream up – a sand bag, core exercise ball, a hockey stick.
They considered using a mannequin.
“I said only if I could dress it,” Virtue said, laughing.
“The sand bag just seemed to work,” said the 21-year-old Moir. “It’s really quite awkward to hold and I wanted something that was going to be difficult. About 50 pounds of sand is a lot heavier than Tessa ever has been in a lift, because she holds herself really well. It was heavy.”
Virtue never saw Moir skating with his props and she’s kind of glad she didn’t.
“I think it would have been really hard for me to watch him skate by himself, knowing that I wasn’t able to be out there with him,’’ she said.
For the two skaters who grew up in each other’s arms, the time apart wasn’t easy.
"When you see someone every day for nine hours a day, it’s a bit different,” Moir said. “I was easily frustrated some days because I didn’t have Tessa there. But at the same time, there was no lack of motivation 13 months out of the Olympics. To be out there and watching all these guys compete at the Grand Prixs kind of boiled my blood a little bit, so it wasn’t that hard to stay motivated.”
Virtue and Moir have been partners since 1997, when they were paired together by Moir’s aunt Carol, who coached both of them at the London arena that was literally a few doors down from Moir’s childhood home.
There’s even footage on YouTube of the two as youngsters in early competitions.
They’ve never really known another partner.
“I had one partner before,” Moir said. “But I screwed up the steps, and then she didn’t want to skate with me again. I was eight.
"Then I found Tessa, and I screwed up the steps in the first competition and she stayed with me and that’s when I knew I’d found one.”
All their years together will stand them in good stead in their return to competition. In a discipline where synchronicity is everything, the two found that was the first thing to return.
“I think us just getting back in our groove was a very essential part, but luckily that comes very naturally for us,” Moir said. “We’re very much so on the same page every time we step on the ice, and I think that’s made a lot of the other challenges we’ve faced a lot easier.”
They’ll unveil two new routines – their original dance, the Charleston, on Friday, and the free dance to Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” on Saturday.
“We knew we wanted to do something really different this year because it’s a year out of the Olympics, so we wanted to go in a different direction and challenge ourselves,” Moir said. “I think Marina came in one day with the idea (to use Pink Floyd), and we just loved the songs, we thought it was awesome.”
The duo’s stiffest challenge this week should come from Vanessa Crone of Aurora, Ont., and Paul Poirier of Unionville, Ont., who were second after the compulsories.
In singles, Patrick Chan of Toronto will defend his men’s title, while Joannie Rochette of Ile-Dupas, Que., is seeking her fifth straight women’s title.
Reigning world championship bronze medallists Jessica Dubé of Drummondville, Que., and Bryce Davison of Cambridge, Ont., will be the favourites to win the pairs.
Chan, who opened the season with a pair of Grand Prix victories in Ottawa and Paris, has been thrust into the spotlight with the retirement of world champion Jeffrey Buttle. The 18-year-old admitted there’s a bit of added pressure that comes with the No. 1 ranking.
“I don’t want to be a hero and say no, it is a little bit of pressure, but this is all a learning process because I bet when I get to the Olympics it will be even worse, so this is a good practice,” Chan said. “Nationals is almost like going back home, it’s comfortable for me, it’s not really nerve-wracking, especially coming from international competitions, it’s a lot different, a lot more of a home feel.”
The Canadian championships act as the qualifying event for the Four Continents scheduled for early next month in Vancouver. The team for the world championships in March will be named after the Four Continents.
Canadian figure skating is enjoying a resurgence after the team captured three medals at last year’s world championships – Buttle’s gold, Virtue and Moir’s silver, and a bronze by Dube and Davison.
“We’ve started a really good rebuilding in the last year or two, and this event is a very critical piece in that move toward the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver,” said William Thompson, the CEO of Skate Canada “It’s an opportunity for us to assess how the program’s going, how the athletes are responding and to really see where they sit on the world stage.”