Virtue, Moir: Olympic champions lace up their skates, sharpen their program for return to competition
MISSISSAUGA - The first time Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir compete for points again, they will be ice dancing to Prince.
The late, great musician isn’t easy on them.
“It’s so hard to cut Prince songs into three minutes,” Virtue said at the 2010 Olympic champs’ official relaunch Wednesday at Hershey Centre, site of Skate Canada’s high-performance training camp.
“We keep saying we fully expect we have to answer to Prince one day,” Moir joked.
This comeback short dance, after two years of show skating and personal pursuits, features a brief nod to Purple Rain at the end. Will Moir don that colour this season as an homage to one of music’s great innovators?
“We’re actually just drawing that up,” the 28-year-old Ilderton native said. “I might have to step outside of my comfort level. Time for new material. I just can’t wear all-black all the time anymore.”
Not much the two-time world and five-time Canadian champions have accomplished in their sporting lives can be labelled as comfortable.
Six years ago, they won gold in Vancouver with Virtue suffering through major leg woes. They famously trained alongside their biggest rivals, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, while sharing a coach.
They pushed the limits of their discipline to such a degree, it often put them at odds with what judges were seeking, costing them a second Olympic title in Sochi.
Now, they are trying to re-find their groove at a new home base in Montreal while working alongside the current world champions – France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. Virtue and Moir last won a world title in 2012.
“It’s inspiring, challenging, terrifying and thrilling,” Virtue, the 27-year-old Londoner, said. “We’ve run the gamut of emotions (since announcing their return in February). We’ve built a phenomenal team around us (led by coaches and mentors Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who have built one of the world’s top ice-dance schools). We’re impressed at the state of the skating world. We were able to get some distance on it and we have a different appreciation for it.”
History hasn’t always been kind to skaters who check out of the game for a few years, then try to climb back to the top of the international podium. If you can’t regain your speed and precision, everything looks clunky.
That doesn’t appear to worry the Canadians.
“Every competition we go to, we’re looking to win,” Moir said. “That’s never changed for 10 years and I don’t think it ever will. We’re coming here to win a gold medal for Canada (specifically at the next Olympics in 2018 in South Korea), but I don’t think we judge ourselves solely on that result anymore. This part of our journey is more about improving our skating to the level we want it to be – and we’ll know.
"We always say we know before the judges’ mark comes up. It’s even more important this time around.”
The duo watched the most recent worlds in Boston and noticed a real shift in the judging. They noted how clearly skaters have been able to execute their turns and footwork.
“People know exactly what they’re looking for,” Virtue said. “We’re conscious of that. It will be a process and we have a lot of catch-up, but we’re ready to put in that work.”
By the end of the fall, they should have an idea of where they stand. The Canadian title isn’t even a given, not with world-class Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje on board.
“We are happy to be in the conversation,” Moir said. “There’s no doubt we have to be better than we have ever been to (compete). That’s what sport is all about. Two years off is a long time. We tried to come back as early as possible … but the body just didn’t work quite the same as it did at 24 and 20. It was a little bit of a struggle (this year). Now, seeing the light and trusting in the training and experience, it has brought us around.”
That built-in battle with the Americans has vanished. It dominated the ice-dance conversation from Vancouver to Sochi.
“The rivalry pushed and pulled us to levels we probably wouldn’t have accomplished without it,” Moir said, “but we’re at a different spot in our life. This part of our career we’ve talked about is to be a bit more of role models. We want the younger athletes to come to us.
"We want to be remembered as the people we are and good sportsmen.”
For now, it starts with a Kiss – one of Prince’s hit songs.
“I’m still pushing for a Hall & Oates program,” Virtue said. “It’ll probably never happen.”
“It’s definitely not going to happen,” he said. “You can get a new partner.”
Then, he considered the musical dynamics of their 19-year relationship.
Tessa & Scott: Episode 1 ↳ Seventeen years later, Tessa Virtue can still make Scott Moir feel shy, her touch taking him back to their seven-and-nine days (even despite spending almost every day since 1997 being touched by Tessa).