Two years ago, many in the skating world wondered whether they had seen the last of Virtue and Moir and all the glory their competitive career had produced. The Canadian ice dance duo hit the show circuit, and explored new opportunities beyond the rink. But neither could deny their passion for the sport, and that there was one final chapter of the story that had yet to be written.
Their comeback announcement stunned many observers. Many wondered what Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir — whose résumé includes Olympic gold, a pair of World Championship and six Canadian titles — could possibly have left to achieve. But a discussion with the decorated ice dancers reveals a renewed spirit and passion for the sport.
“I get and understand where people are coming from,” Moir said with a laugh. “But if you have fire left, you’ve got to explore it, and that’s definitely the case for Tessa and me. People have to truly understand sport to understand why people come back; it doesn’t seem unusual to me. I was pretty surprised at the number of surprised people there were when we announced our comeback.”
Making the decision was a gradual process for Virtue, but Moir said he always knew that he wanted to return to competitive skating. And this time, it is not just about winning another Olympic gold medal in 2018, although that is surely one of the things that lie at the heart of this decision.
The duo first discussed the possibility of making a comeback two summers ago. “We were at the Great Wall of China when we had the very first talk,” Moir recalled. “We had a feeling, and after that it just got stronger and stronger. There were a couple of times when we were really motivated watching skating, and we said, ‘We have to come back.’”
When they approached Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon about becoming their coaching team in this audacious return, the first word they heard was “why?”
“When we made the call about moving to Montréal, the first question Marie and Patch asked us was, ‘Why do you want to do this?’ I thought it was really telling that they wanted to make sure our intentions were pure,” Virtue recalled.
Dubreuil and Lauzon, who had worked with Virtue and Moir on show programs the past two years, had heard the comeback talk plenty of times in the past. “We joked about it for a year,” Dubreuil explained. “Every time they came here, we joked about it until one day the joke was not funny anymore. When we started the conversation a couple of months ago, I said, ‘you need to be really, really sure you want to do this — that you’re fully ready to make a comeback because a comeback is never easy.’”
Virtue and Moir said the two weeks they spent working with Dubreuil and Lauzon in Montréal last January were exciting. “We were exhilarated and ready for the challenge but were terrified and questioning everything,” Virtue said. “But, mostly, we were just trying to be sponges and take in all the information that we could. That’s what felt so good, being a student again and thinking, ‘OK, here we are with so much to learn.’ I guess that is a role we’re very familiar with, so that’s probably why it’s very comforting. But it really was thrilling.”
The seasoned veterans know precisely what they are getting themselves into, and when they hit the ice this fall that it will not be as simple as flicking a switch. “We’re very conscious of the road ahead,” said Virtue. “It’s not going to be easy by any means. The ice dance world is in such a strong state, and there’s so much depth. People are doing incredible things, and it has advanced in the last couple of years. We have a lot to do to catch up to it, but I also think that’s part of the appeal — all those hurdles and the challenge of it all.”
For Virtue and Moir, this is not about rehashing what they have already produced. “They are truly back with a vengeance,” said David Wilson, who has been enlisted to help Dubreuil choreograph new competitive programs for Virtue and Moir. Virtue calls Dubreuil and Wilson their “dynamic duo.”
“It’s like they really want to mix things up and be transformative,” Wilson said. “That kind of voraciousness is exciting to be around, especially when you think about all their accomplishments. They are by no means wanting to come back, waltz through the door, be pretty and win. That’s not it at all. It’s like they want to transform themselves. It’s a very personal thing.”
COMING UP FOR AIR
Two years ago, their mindset was very different. Exhausted by a season-long drive to the 2014 Winter Olympic Games that ended with a silver medal behind their American rivals, Virtue and Moir both knew that it was time to take a step back. “We were happy with our Olympic experiences. Both of them were unique and such fantastic, positive experiences,” Moir said. “But we were burned out and we knew we needed a break.”
While they did not stop skating — there were plenty of shows and tours on their agenda — it was also time to explore different avenues. It became, as Virtue put it, “the year of saying ‘yes.’” They tried their hand at television, working at Skate Canada and the Canadian Championships for the CTV and TSN networks. Virtue launched a jewelry line through Hillberg & Berk, and played herself in a recently released movie, “Ice Girls,” which stars Elvis Stojko.
Moir spent time helping to renovate a house in his hometown of Ilderton, Ontario, appeared in a television commercial for an insurance company, and “just doing simple little things to get away from all the buzz.”
“We were really happy to step away,” Virtue said. “You realize that there’s so much out there in the world, and you get a healthy balance and healthy perspective on the whole thing. When you’re in it, sport can be so all-consuming, and it’s easy to get wrapped up in the whirlwind of it.”
Over time, what started out as perhaps a small void in their respective worlds grew into more of a gaping chasm. “We left the door open because you never know,” Virtue said. “That’s one thing that we did learn … that you just never know what will happen. When Scott would joke about 2018, I laughed it off because I thought it was just that: a joke. The more time went on, the more we started to realize ‘we think we have it in us.’
“Thinking about missing the chance of being part of that Canadian Olympic team again and watching the Games at home sort of got us into that mindset of, ‘I’m not sure I’m ready for that.’ I know that we will want to be competing at every Winter Games until the day we die — that is just our nature. And right now, physically, we still can. We don’t want to have any regrets, but we also wanted to make sure we are doing it for the right reasons and that we were going to enjoy the process.”
What perhaps clinched the decision about their future was the time they spent delving into the past.Though they liked what they saw in the programs they had previously put out on the ice, there was also a sense of wanting more. “You know what it really was? It was watching our own performances,” said Moir. “It is the cruelest thing to ever do to make yourself watch your own performances. You have this idea of what it felt like and the effort that you put into it, and, when we looked back, we were proud of everything we did, but there is still more we can do. We are not satisfied yet.
“When we get back into that competitive sphere, we would be kidding ourselves if we told people our goal isn’t to win because it definitely will be. We are competitors, and our goal will be to win the Olympics. There is no doubt about that. But a lot of it is also about growing our own skating and coming back because we have unfinished business with ourselves. Our skating can improve, and we feel like we can push it to a different level and try to bring a couple of edgier things to the ice.”
Virtue and Moir are now 26 and 28, respectively, and the days of being the ice dance whiz kids are long behind them. As Dubreuil pointed out, this is not the same fresh-faced couple that enjoyed the most golden moment of their lives when they won the Olympic title on home soil in 2010. “They won the Olympics when they were still pretty much babies,” she said.
“They were barely 20, and they were fresh and exciting to watch because they were so much younger than the rest of the group, except for Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Now they’re making a comeback with experience and life experience, and they have a lot more material inside themselves to express.”
Wilson echoed that sentiment. “The thing people have to remember is how incredibly young they were when they won in Vancouver — almost way too young,” he said. “How can you be seasoned when you’re barely 20 years old, especially in ice dance? It’s more of a man-woman sport than a boy-girl sport. There’s something about a mature woman and a mature man telling these love stories, or telling these stories of drama and pain or whatever; you need to have lived a little bit for it to feel satisfying. They’re still relatively young, but now is when they should be in their prime as ice dancers.”
Virtue and Moir also knew that they wanted to embark on this journey in a new environment. After training in Canton, Mich., for 10 years, they were ready for something different. “I don’t know if there was ever an option in Canton, but I just felt that, after Sochi, it was time for us to move on,” Moir said.
There was no question that Dubreuil and Lauzon — who preceded them as Canadian champions and have mentored them ever since — were the obvious choices to guide them. “If they weren’t part of the team, I’m not sure that we would have done it, to be honest,” Moir said. “They’ve been a big part of our careers. They were the champions before us, and they always took care of us. We always had a special connection.”
Virtue agreed. “Marie and Patch were always kind of mentoring us, and they took us under their wing early on, showing us what it meant to be professionals, showing us what it meant to savor the moment of competition, and we always admired and appreciated that. We wanted our aesthetic and our feel to be different. Anything and everything was on the table when we started discussions, but Montréal just sort of feels right.”
It is also why there are no concerns about sharing their new coaches with French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the 2015 World champions, who train at the same rink in Montréal. “It is interesting because here we are, right back in the mix with the current World champions,” Moir said in reference to their former base, where they trained alongside Davis and White. “That was one of the first questions that we asked, and they passed the test on that one. They answered it perfectly. We really trust the integrity of Patch and Marie.”
“You want to surround yourself with the best and with people who will push you,” Virtue added. “I think it would be really odd to be in an isolated arena on our own. We’re looking forward to it. We loved watching the French team and their rise to the top, and we love what Marie and Patch have done with their programs.”
Dubreuil said there is no favoritism at their rink. “Everybody gets the same amount of time and lessons, and we give 100 percent to every one of them. It’s really up to them to take as much as we give them and chew on that and really commit to it.”
Virtue and Moir have closely followed skating during the past two years and said that watching from the sidelines has given them a new appreciation for the sport. “It’s been different for me watching from the seats,” Moir said. “It’s been a joy to watch, honestly. Even watching the other disciplines, I just have a different perspective and respect for skating.”
For Virtue, this new adventure is exciting because it feels like starting over. “We’ve been fortunate to work with so many spectacular coaches throughout our careers, and we’ve sort of amalgamated various techniques that we’ve picked up from so many people. This phase is sorting through all that and, now, physically, we still can. We didn’t want to have any regrets, but we also wanted to make sure we are doing it for the right reasons and that we were going to enjoy the process. If we were coming back to skate the same way — well, we probably wouldn’t be doing it, and we wouldn’t be excited about it. What is so enthralling right now is that it’s new, and we have so much to learn, and while it is hard, it’s also an opportunity.”
Moir said they decided to return this year because they want to enjoy that process. “I think that it is extremely difficult to come back a year before and have a flash-in-the- pan Olympic success. It’s not impossible, but our best chance to be successful is to have two solid years of competing.
“I think we thought that 2014 was our last go. I’m pretty sure that 2018 will be our last one. Tessa and I have been a team that, on a daily basis, has enjoyed skating together. I don’t know how she puts up with me, but she does, and she’s done it for almost 20 years now. Either she puts on a good show, or she actually enjoys it.”
VIRTUE & MOIR: TRIUMPHANT RETURN