As the sound of cymbals rang out marking the end of the free skate, their right hands fell in unison across their hearts and the Sochi crowd erupted in applause for Canada’s ice dance sweethearts. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir felt the gratification of living a dream they chased since becoming the youngest pair to win ice dance gold in 2010 – and the reverie may be through.
Champion figure skater Kurt Browning, commentating at the time, was reluctant to accept the finality of that moment, which Virtue and Moir admitted may be their last at the Olympic Games. The iconic performance would live on forever, he said, by a pair matured to the pinnacle of their ability.
“We looked at each other with a kiss and cry and said if that’s it, that’s the way to go,” says Moir, on the phone from Japan with the Stars on Ice tour. “Our plan has always been to take some time, do these tours, enjoy skating and see where our lives take us. We like to sit down and talk about how great the Olympics were. It’s almost a romantic connection. It’s hard to say that you won’t do the next Olympic Games after going through the experience that you’ve gone through in Sochi, which was probably the best month in our lives.”
Had Virtue learned, as she trained to defend their gold, that the longtime pair would come in second to their rivals, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White, she figures she would have been heartbroken. But while Virtue has come to acknowledge doubts she felt about training with Marina Zoueva, who was also coaching Davis and White in the run-up to the Olympics, she has never once second-guessed the quality of the show they put on in Russia.
“I haven’t gone back to watch our performances yet and I think that’s probably for the best because I’m holding on to the feeling that I had when I finished both programs,” says Virtue. “I really don’t feel like I could have skated any better. … I truly felt better getting off the ice in Sochi than I did getting off the ice in Vancouver, even with the gold.”
The skate was a culmination of a lifetime of work together. Virtue and Moir, now 24 and 26, began skating together in rural Ontario when she was seven and he was nine, a year after Virtue began skating lessons and landed under the direction of Moir’s aunt. Virtue’s grandmother dropped her off at the first lesson – which she had initially requested in preparation for a class field trip – in an origin story now legendary for her grandmother’s take on where her little one was headed.
“My grandma said, ‘You know Tessa’s not taking this very seriously. This is just what she’s doing for fun, so there will be no tests, no competitions. This is just her activity for her enjoyment,’” Virtue says. “Obviously, that didn’t last very long.”
The duo have consistently thrived under the pressure of competition, claiming national and world titles. In 2009, they made history by becoming the first to receive a 10.0 in dance in international competition.
Whether side-by-side during training, touring with Stars on Ice or filming Tessa & Scott a documentary-style television series about their lives now airing on W Network, Virtue and Moir are bonded, not just by a work ethic that sees them on the ice five hours a day mid-season, but a passion for ice dance rooted in the same appreciation for storytelling executed through precise skill.
“It’s kind of that marriage between art and athleticism that I really love and I think that’s what makes the sport special,” Moir says. “With the great champions who have come before us and the champions who are going to come after us, people see that and fall in love with ice dance as much as we have.”
Where Moir is very linear, with a greater understanding of points and certain technical requirements, Virtue is drawn more to exploring the creative side of their programs. With the acrobatics involved in the increasingly technically demanding lifts, Virtue and Moir have sought the guidance of Cirque du Soleil acrobats and lift coaches. As for the primary coach leading them to Sochi, Zoueva, and the dynamic between her and her two competing ice dance pairs – while not uncommon in skating, remains a point of great fascination for audiences. For the majority of their relationship, the close proximity to their rivals created healthy competition. Eventually, their efforts to separate themselves from Davis and White, left the pair feeling very alone in the last season leading into the Olympics, Virtue says.
“It’s impossible to ignore the feelings of doubt, especially when our coach travelled to the US Nationals and not the Canadian Nationals, or she marched with the American team and not the Canadian as she usually does. There were certainly red flags and when you’re in it, it’s hard to step back and get perspective, but looking back there were some moments that we questioned.”
They don’t allow regrets to taint their memories of the event. Instead, they’re twizzling about in the creative opportunities to arise once competition ends and Stars on Ice dates are booked. When Virtue and Moir grace the Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre ice May 13 (along with Browning and Olympic silver medallist Patrick Chan among others), they’ll bring with them a rare piece of choreography they crafted together. The first steps to Van Morrison’s Into the Mystic, their feel-good song, used to close training sessions, came about during an informal dance at Moir’s house.
“We started by dancing around his kitchen, playing the music,” Virtue says. “This is a song that’s very meaningful to us because we listened to it a lot before Sochi. Even the lyrics are appropriate to us at this transition in our lives.”
But whether magnificently they will flow into a mystical future on the ice together in the years to come, and whether Sochi truly was their final Olympic dance, is a question to which neither quite has the answer. Virtue is three-quarters of the way through a psychology degree, which she plans to continue online while on tour. Moir indulges in weighing all the possibilities left for him to explore in the world outside skating.
“There’s a lot of sacrifice that comes with being an Olympian,” he says. “I’ve really put school on the sidelines, embarking on this dream of ours. I’d like to go back to school and help some of the younger athletes, hopefully help some of them have some of the experiences that we’ve had. That to me, would be completely fulfilling.”
“This is a time to say yes to things and explore, step out of our comfort zones, basically to see what we like and where our passions lie outside of the confines of the four boards of an arena,” Virtue says.
Given their close relationship and on-ice chemistry, fans have channelled plenty of energy into questioning if it translates into an off-ice romance. It’s so much more than that.
“When we stepped on the ice in Sochi, we looked at each other and said: ‘How cool is this that we get to live this experience with a best friend?’” Virtue says. “I always say that there is only one person on the planet who has lived what I have lived and has experienced our skating career in the same way. That’s Scott, and there’s something really special and unique about that dynamic. We’ll be forever bonded, obviously, just by the sheer amount of time that we’ve spent together, but also because of everything that we’ve gone through as a pair.”
Stars on Ice
is at Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre on
May 13, 7 p.m.
Tickets at selectyourtickets.com