Ice Network

Virtue, Moir return with renewed passion for skating

Two-time Olympic medalists not planning on being 'part of the pack'
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Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir want to bring a new look to their competitive programs when they return for the 2016-17 season. -Getty Images

No single eureka moment prompted Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to announce their competitive return at the end of February, nearly two years to the day since they won the ice dance silver medal at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

"I wish there had been, because it would make for a much better story," Virtue, 26, said. "In most of the big decisions in our career, we had those moments, and I can picture the location, the time and everything about it. This was more of a gradual thing."

"We knew we needed at least one year off, and we ended up needing two," Moir, 28, said. "But we started discussing [a return] pretty early on, what it would look like if it were to happen. We wanted to be absolutely sure it was coming from the right spot."

Ask the two-time world champions why they're coming back, and their answers are as perfectly synchronized as their twizzles. They missed competing, the day-to-day training grind, the challenge of creating interesting programs while working within the judging system's rules. They wanted to learn new things, move in different ways, interpret edgier music. Six years after winning Olympic gold in Vancouver, they thought they [still had room to] grow.

"We've watched a lot of footage -- we've really been studying our skating -- and we feel there is so much room for improvement," Virtue said. "We had a series of conversations where we vowed to each other we both needed to be 100 percent in, we needed to be inspired, and we needed to be ready to do things differently."

That included turning to their Canadian-champion predecessors, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice "Patch" Lauzon. The couple, married since 2008, won the second of their two world silver medals in 2007, the year Virtue and Moir made their worlds debut with a sixth-place finish.

"They were mentors for the entire team, and we always felt like they kind of took us under their wing," Moir said. "I know that Patch has been a big part of my personal life and mentored me to being a bit more of a professional."

Dubreuil recalled Virtue and Moir flirting with the idea of returning for about a year. In December, the skaters visited her rink, Gadbois Centre in Montreal, to work up a hip hop show number with Dubreuil and David Wilson. That's when conversations began in earnest.

"One thing led to another, and I told them, 'Why don't you really give it a try?'" Dubreuil said.

There was a down week at Gadbois Centre in late January, after the Canadian and U.S. championships. Dubreuil, along with fellow coach Romain Haguenauer, would soon head to the European championships in Bratislava, Slovakia, with world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, as well as teams from Denmark and Spain. It was a good time for Virtue and Moir to train quietly with Lauzon, a tough technical taskmaster, and affirm their desire to return.

"They really gave it a solid almost two weeks of three or four hours of training and off-ice, just like they would if they were competing," Dubreuil said. "And when I came back from Europeans, they were luminous. Both of them were so excited about having worked on some technical things with Patrice. They were like little kids, falling in love with skating all over again."

Told of Dubreuil's comments, Virtue laughed.

"She's right. There have been so many moments when we're on the ice with Marie and Patch, and I just look over at Scott and feel this passion and love for skating that I certainly haven't felt in a long time," Virtue said.

From 2005-14, Virtue and Moir trained in Canton, Michigan, alongside Meryl Davis and Charlie White under Marina Zoueva and, until June 2012, Igor Shpilband. The two teams dominated the sport from 2010 through the Sochi Olympics, trading world and Olympic titles. Now, as Virtue and Moir prepare to share coaches and choreographer (Dubreuil) with Papadakis and Cizeron, the cycle seems to be repeating.

"We knew either we or Meryl and Charlie would probably win (in Sochi), and hats off to them, they really skated and won the competition," Moir said. "At the same time, we never felt anger toward them or jealousy. It was more so that we both grew together and pushed each other.

"That's the relationship we're looking for with the French (team)," he continued. "They're doing some great stuff now; their style is completely different from ours, and I'm sure our coaching staff is smart enough to know they can't have two teams that are similar (in style)."

Dubreuil thinks all of her teams -- including U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Canadian bronze medalists François-Xavier Ouellette and Élisabeth Paradis -- will benefit from Virtue and Moir's presence.

"Tessa and Scott being from North America, and Gabriella and Guillaume being from Europe makes it so they are not going to compete against each other that much," she said. "Gabriella and Guillaume know [Tessa and Scott] well; they did Art on Ice with them. They get along really well. And what is interesting is, I think these two teams have completely opposite qualities.

"So we thought about it, because we always consider our teams before we accept somebody else, and I think Gabriella and Guillaume will benefit from training with a couple like Tessa and Scott," she continued. "They are going to make each other better and push each other all the way to the (2018) Olympics, of that I have no doubt."

It's too soon to talk specifics on competitive programs, but Dubreuil certainly has ideas.

"Midnight Blues is the (short dance) pattern next season, and we can do hip hop or swing with it," she said. "Tessa and Scott have done hip hop classes the last couple of times they've come to Montreal, so we will see if we incorporate that into their short dance. They don't want to come back the same as when they left; they want to incorporate new stuff into their repertoire. I think it's very courageous they want to bring newness to their own style."

The skaters plan to set up living arrangements in Montreal later this month, prior to touring with Stars on Ice in Japan and Canada. After a short break, they will begin training for the 2016-17 season in June, Dubreuil said. They will likely be assigned as a host pick for Skate Canada and hope to compete at a senior B international event before that.

"From June to the first competition goes by very quickly, so there are going to be a lot of hours spent on the ice from June to October, for sure," Dubreuil said. "Their work ethic is phenomenal, and when they commit to something, they commit fully, so I don't see any of the new (IJS) requirements being a problem."

Virtue and Moir don't expect a cakewalk. Over the past two seasons, Canadian champions Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje have won two world medals. After Sochi, IJS ice dance rules changed, particularly for the short dance, and they've got some catching up to do to ensure their elements will rate Level 4. Still, it's clear they have not returned simply to flex their artistic muscles.

"We've watched a bit here and there, and there are some incredible things happening in the ice dance world right now, and it's great," Virtue said. "The field is so deep and the sport is in a good position. There isn't necessarily room for us, so we're going to have to make that room."

"A lot happens in a sport in two years, and I think we would be incredibly naive to think we would just jump back in and it's going to be comfortable," Moir said. "There are going to be growing pains; even the simple things like being in the white arena lights, seeing the fans' faces, seeing a lot of people looking back at us. We hope to get most of those out early in the season, if not at a summer competition."

After a pause, he added, "We would be lying if we said we were just coming back to be part of the pack. That's definitely not the goal."