After all the Olympic excitement had subsided, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir see so much more when they gaze upon the medals they earned at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.
Those shiny pieces of metal might indicate the duo’s placement in the ice dance event in Sochi, but for these Canadian skating icons the silver lining has a far deeper significance.
Heading into their second Olympic competition, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were in a virtual tie with their training mates, Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The two teams had battled it out every time they met on competitive ice over the last four years.
In Sochi, Virtue and Moir landed in second, but that silver medal finish had a golden lining. “When I look at the medals, I think of the whole Sochi experience, our season, and the triumphs that we had,” said Moir, reflecting on a magical fortnight in Russia.
“There’s nothing but warm feelings. We still wake up and wish that we were back in Sochi. That was just the best month of our lives, and, when I look at that medal—when I look at anything that makes me think of Russia—there is nothing but great memories. What a great Olympics it was for us, and what a great way to look back upon what could be the pinnacle of our career.”
So exhilarating was the experience that Virtue and Moir didn’t hesitate to take a pass on competing at the ensuing World Championships in Japan. On the day of the free dance final in Saitama, Virtue conceded that it was the right call. It was the first time in seven years that the two-time World champions had skipped the global event.
“The competitor in me wishes I had been there,” Virtue said in reflection. “But there wasn’t one day that went by in the month since the Games ended that Scott and I didn’t comment on the fact that we were so happy not to be training. We were just mentally, physically, and emotionally drained and exhausted. We left the ice in Sochi on such a high note that I know it would have been impossible to replicate that feeling. We made the right decision.”
Of course, still to come is the decision: the one that will determine what path Virtue and Moir take in the future.
The fact that, on the day both spoke to IFS, they were in the process of packing up their lives in Canton, Mich., the training base they have called home for a decade, and were headed back to their homes on Canadian soil suggested rather emphatically that a new chapter is about to unfold.
Coaching runs hard in the lifeblood of the Moir clan in the small town of Ilderton, Ontario. There are five of them, including Scott’s mother, Alma, on the coaching roster at the tiny club that spawned the careers of its most famous alumni.
Although he could easily glide into the family business, Moir said, “I’ve got to be my own man and get out and do my own thing.” But in the same breath, he also made it clear that the profession has a definite allure for him. “I’ve got to figure out in what aspect I’m going to give back to the sport. I’d love to coach, from the grassroots level all the way up. It is a passion of mine. Coaching is definitely an avenue that I would love to explore.
“But I just got out of so much commitment and structure in my skating life that I need a break. I know that I’m not ready to commit to students and the structure that a coach needs to bring for at least a couple of years. We’ll see if that is what calls me a little more seriously down the road.”
Virtue, for her part, wants to explore opportunities away from the ice. Completing a degree in psychology is her first priority. Having previously taken classes at the University of Windsor, Virtue, now in her third year, might transfer those credits to either the University of Western Ontario or the University of Toronto.
“The next several months—the next phase of my life—is about seeing what opportunities arise, where my passions lie, and what I want to pursue and to sort of find myself, away from the confines of the Arctic ice rink in Canton,” she explained, in reference to the venue where she and Moir trained under the tutelage of Marina Zoueva.
“As much as I love to perform, I’m also really excited about other things that life has to offer. I have dedicated so much time to the sport. … I think it’ll be interesting to try new things and challenge myself in different ways.”
Virtue and Moir are currently in the midst of a six-week tour with Stars On Ice in Japan and Canada. It is also possible that they will do more shows in Asia in the coming months. “It’s a completely different avenue, and it’s very exciting for us,” Moir said. “The ISU rules are very restrictive, but now we don’t have to play by those rules. Now, we can create what we want. Hopefully, it’s something we can do for awhile.
“Is this going to be all that we have in our lives? Probably not. There are a lot of things that we both want to do. We enjoy skating together. That is the one thing that’s kept us going together throughout the years, so that’s exciting.”
Although it is hard to imagine Virtue without Moir, and vice versa, these are two different people with very different goals in life. Skating fans got a glimpse of that in the six-part documentary “Tessa & Scott,” which aired earlier this year on the W Network. Virtue looked right at home socializing at parties during the Toronto Film Festival, but Moir prefers, as he put it, “to head back to the farm” in Ilderton.
“It is all going to be an adjustment,” said Moir, 26. “For me, it’s an adjustment right now not having a boss. I feel like I’ve always kind of answered to Marina, but now it’s kind of wide open.
“The relationship between Tessa and I will have to change a little bit, but it’ll be fun. We’ll still have projects together, but, at the end of the day, we are two different people, and it’ll be interesting to see what kind of directions we go in.”
Though both feel a bit of trepidation about heading their own ways, Virtue is focused on the positives. “Our careers are so interconnected as a team. It will be healthy for us to navigate our own paths and find our own identities apart from one another, as scary and as strange as that is to think about,” she said.
Virtue and Moir have spent the vast majority of their lives, 17 years, in each other’s company, sharing the highs and lows, and have developed an enduring friendship that has seen them through the toughest times.
Along the way, they have won the adoration of a nation. Both admit, in the wake of the result in Russia, that they had feelings of letting the country down and not delivering the gold that Canadians so dearly wanted for them. With every interaction they had with the “ordinary folk” at home, Virtue and Moir realized that they had returned to a countrywide celebration—one that was perhaps further fueled by the fact that their many fans realize that it was time to celebrate a career that is fast approaching its end.
“It’s been such a heartwarming experience since returning home from Sochi,” Virtue said. “When we got home, we were just painted with such positive messages from the Games. Everyone was so thrilled with our performances. We’ve had random people stop us on the street and say, ‘You made us proud to be Canadian,’ or ‘Thank you for representing our country.’ There is nothing that is more meaningful than those sentiments. That’s better than a gold medal.”
Moir agreed. “We wanted the gold. We always said that is what we were going for, and, in some ways, we did feel like we let the country down. But the support we’ve received has been amazing. As Tessa said, when people come up to us on the street and say, ‘You’re golden in our hearts,’ that goes a long way.”
Although Davis and White, their friends and training mates, stood on the top step of the podium in Sochi, the silver medal position didn’t exactly feel so bad after all. Virtue and Moir will tell you that their performances, in some ways, exceeded what they laid down in Vancouver — even if the medal color might suggest otherwise.
Indeed, if Sochi was truly the last dance for Virtue and Moir, both are eminently comfortable calling it a career on that note without a hint of regret. “For whatever reason, I just can’t seem to process anything but happiness when I look at that silver medal,” Virtue said. “I can honestly say that, when we stepped off the ice in Sochi, I felt better than I did when we stepped off the ice in Vancouver. It was about our performances and the moments we created and being more appreciative and more grateful for the opportunity.
“This time, I was more conscious of the fact that my entire family was there, more aware of the troubles and the ups and downs we had gone through over the course of our careers. I think skating as if it were our last competition and our last Olympic Games … certainly cast a whole different feeling over the entire event. It was very special.
“We couldn’t have skated those programs any better. They felt exactly like I had dreamed of. … If that was our last competition experience, it was a great one.”
Moir admits that it would make for a good storybook ending. “What a fulfilling feeling as an athlete. We had been lying awake at night thinking about those performances, worrying and stressing, getting excited and getting amped up,” he recalled.
“To go out there and have those skates … yeah, that’s a good feeling to say, ‘Put it on the shelf’ and maybe move on to the next chapter in our lives.”