Virtue & Moir: Canadian Olympic athletes of the year

When Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir decided to step away from competition after the 2014 Olympics, figure skating felt a little empty.

Turns out they, too, felt a little empty without the sport. During their two-season hiatus, the iconic Canadian duo discovered they craved deeply the unique enticements of world-class ice dance.

As Virtue told the CBC’s Susan Ormiston, she missed “everything that comes with putting yourself out there, and being vulnerable in a competitive setting.”

So they returned in the fall of 2016, and they’ve looked better than ever as they chase a second Olympic gold medal in what will likely be their final Winter Games in early 2018.

But right now it’s the end of 2017 — a time to look back and declare that, for all the times they reminded us of their brilliance, Virtue and Moir are CBCSports.ca’s choice for the Canadian Olympic athletes of the year.

Virtue and Moir focused on Pyeonchang gold8:32

Trust the process

This year began the way most do for Tessa and Scott — with a national title. They captured their seventh Canadian ice dance crown in January in Ottawa. In the spring they became world champions for a third time.

This fall, they started the Grand Prix season with a pair of wins before dropping to silver at the Grand Prix Final. It was their first defeat since announcing their comeback. The winners were France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron — their main obstacles to recapturing Olympic gold in South Korea this February.

Virtue and Moir also had to settle for a silver at the 2014 Sochi Games, where Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White came out on top. The Canadians insist they don’t feel bitterness about that result, and the upcoming Olympics are their main — but not only — motivation.

“Everything about this two-year plan that we had created was setting us up for that moment on the Olympic ice,” says Virtue. “But if that were it, that wouldn’t be enough to push ourselves in training every single day.”

So, says Virtue, they also focus on being strong athletes, the joy of artistry, and even small technical improvements.
 
“Winning gold in Pyeongchang is the goal, but that can’t be everything and that can’t be how we define ourselves,” she says.

Obsessing with process over results is how many Olympians cope mentally with the crushing pressure of having to deliver at a specific moment every four years.

“You can’t just measure yourself solely on winning that medal. It has to be on the everyday experience,” says Moir, “And as cliché​ as it sounds, it’s truly what has worked for us.”

virtue-moir-papdakis-cizeron-1180

Virtue and Moir are friendly with their chief rivals, France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guilaume Cizeron, who will challenge them for gold in South Korea in February. (Toshifumi Kitamura/AFP/Getty Images)

New material, new rivals

Watching them skate, Virtue and Moir certainly look not only refreshed, but inspired.

Their free dance this season is set to music from the film Moulin Rouge! and there is a lift they execute at the end of El Tango de Roxanne that is as acrobatic as it is emotional. 

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skate to gold at NHK Trophy8:24

In their free dance, Virtue is unwavering and bright. Moir is a compelling character during the tango, and extremely expressive.

“We wanted drama, we wanted passion, we wanted romance, we wanted to highlight our strengths while still pushing ourselves in different directions,” Virtue told Ormiston.

“That’s what we love to do and I think our skating’s at it’s best when we do that,” says Moir. “When we draw people in and hopefully make them feel something.” 

Virtue and Moir hope that helps make the difference at the Olympics against Papadakis and Cizeron, who have supplanted the retired Davis and White as the Canadians’ chief rivals.

The teams are friendly off the ice — they both work with coaches Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon in Montreal  — but have traded shots in competition all season. After Virtue and Moir broke their own total-score world record in winning the Skate Canada Grand Prix event in October, Papadakis and Cizeron became the first dance team to crest the 200-point mark — an achievement Moir envies — when they won the Cup of China the next week.

The younger French team topped that in early December at the Grand Prix Final in Japan, where they defeated Virtue and Moir 202.16 to 199.86, setting up the Olympic showdown.

France’s Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron skate to gold medal at ISU Grand Prix Final7:52

Given those results, some have argued Papadakis and Cizeron should be considered the favourites in Pyeongchang.

“We know that we’ll have to be at our best, or close, to compete with Gabriella and Guillaume,” says Moir.

As we saw again this year, at their best is where Virtue and Moir always seem to be.

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