Olympic ice dancing champions at Vancouver 2010 and double silver medallists at Sochi 2014 (ice dance and team competition), Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir recently made a successful return to the ice following a long break. Unbeaten during the 2016/17 season, they won their third world title in April 2017, and now hope to return to the top of the Olympic podium at PyeongChang 2018.
Partners since their teens in 1997, Virtue and Moir made a record-breaking start to the Olympic season at Skate Canada in late October 2017, the second event in the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating. Performing to the sound of the Rolling Stones’ Sympathy for the Devil, the Canadian duo scored 82.68 points for their short dance, beating the world record they had set at the World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki (FIN) earlier in the year. They then posted a new world record total score of 199.89 following their free skate, which they danced to music from Moulin Rouge.
That second record was eclipsed a week later by their main rivals, Gabriela Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, who broke through the 200-point barrier at the Cup of China in Beijing, scoring 200.43 points in all.
The Canadian and French couples – who will be regarded as the favourites for gold at PyeongChang 2018 – faced off for the first time in the season at the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya (JPN) in December. On that occasion, Papadakis and Cizeron set a new overall world points record of 202.16, finishing ahead of Virtue and Moir in both the short dance and the free dance.
The Canadians’ score of 199.86 points was also hugely impressive, but they will be looking to improve on that in PyeongChang. “We build programmes with points in mind,” says Moir. “We’d love to have a perfect scoresheet at the Olympic Games, but at the same time we always find we skate well when we think about our feeling and our performance, and just being connected to each other.”
The call of the ice
The Canadian pair retired from competition after Sochi 2014, when they were prevented from retaining their Olympic ice dancing title by the USA’s Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the couple they had beaten to gold in Vancouver four years earlier.
Deciding that they missed the ice too much, they returned to action in the 2016/17 season. Dispensing with the services of their long-time coach, Marina Zueva, whom they shared with Davis and White, they decided to work with Marie-France Debreuil and Patrice Lauzon instead.
“After Sochi, we took time to do everything, step outside the skating world, and have lives – and it was wonderful,” said Virtue. “But there was a certain void that we tried to fill. And then, over time, we just realised we missed the structure of training and waking up with a purpose, and having goals in mind, daily goals, weekly goals, seasonal goals. We missed competing.”
The moment they returned to the ice to train was, in her words, “just pure elation. Pure joy. And truly a renewed sense of passion for skating.”
“We love going into the rink every day,” Moir added. “We came back. We didn’t have to. It was for us. And I think there is power to that. We’re doing this because we love figure skating, because we love ice dancing with each other. It’s a crazy thing to say, but that’s why.”
A stunning comeback
While Papadakis and Cizeron made the most of their absence to win the 2015 and 2016 world titles and dominate the Grand Prix scene, the Canadians, who were born two years apart in London, Ontario, went unbeaten throughout their comeback season.
They opened up with wins at the Autumn Classic and Skate Canada in Montreal (CAN) and the NHK Trophy in Sapporo (JPN), before winning the Grand Prix Final for the first time, in Marseille (FRA) in December 2016.
Another first place followed at the 2017 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships at the Gangneung Ice Arena – the venue for the PyeongChang 2018 competition – before their third world title came their way in Helsinki in April, where they set new world records of 82.43 points in the short and 198.62 overall. Papadakis and Cizeron took silver behind them, thanks in the main to a world record score of 119.15 points in the free dance.
The hunger remains
“We had learned so much from last season, having competed and making that comeback,” said Virtue in late October 2017. “So we were very clear with our team. We sat down, everyone together – our strength and conditioning, our mental prep, our whole team – we sat down and discussed the best way to set us up for the Olympic Games.”
The youngest champions in Olympic ice dancing history, the 30-year-old Moir and 28-year-old Virtue have been winning competitions since the early 2000s, and are showing no signs of losing their hunger for success.
As competitive as ever, they are hoping to become the first ice dancing couple to win five Olympic medals. That objective that looks to be well within their reach at PyeongChang 2018, where their duel with Papadakis and Cizeron promises to be nothing short of spectacular.