Ice Network

Virtue, Moir embrace challenge of regaining status

Skaters say they want to focus on exploring artistic side of their skating
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Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have made the most of their time away from competitive skating, but now they are ready to jump back in with both feet. -Scott Moir's Twitter page (twitter.com/ScottMoir)

On Feb. 20, almost the exact middle point between the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2018 Pyeongchang Games, Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir announced they would make a full-fledged comeback to the sport starting in 2016-17.

At the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships, where the two of them were working as analysts for CBC, icenetwork had the chance to sit down and talk with the 2010 Olympic champions about their plans to return to the sport, where they fit in to the current ice dance landscape and what they most enjoyed about their time away from competing.

Icenetwork: I know you did so when you announced your comeback, but can you talk further about that decision and what it was that brought you back?

Tessa Virtue: We knew after Sochi that we needed some time away. After 17 years of competing, there was no doubt in my mind that we needed to take a step back from the competitive scene. We needed to try new things and mentally, physically and emotionally just give ourselves a little bit of a break. We ended up being busier than ever but doing fun things: fun projects, passion projects, charity work, and just said "yes" to things. It was refreshing to have challenges outside of the confines of the arena boards. We grew to feel the void that we missed, the structure of training and waking up with that purpose and having goals that we were actively working toward. We still felt like we had that fire. It was just this sense of, it felt right. We have more to do.

Icenetwork: Was that something the two of you had to talk out?

Scott Moir: Totally. After our first Olympics, we just looked at each other and said, 'We're not done yet, are we?' 'No, no! OK, let's keep going.' It was a bit more complicated after 2014; we knew that we needed a break. We didn't want to be the athletes that retired and then came back, but we had to give ourselves some time. If you asked us right after 2014 and told us we had to make a decision, we would have said that we were done for sure. The more we talked about it, the more distance we got from the 2014 Games, we found that there was a void and realized we still had that passion. Our communication is probably at its strongest right now. Then the feeling was, 'I really want to come back.' It evolved from there. And then we put this team together. It feels like it's been authentic.

Icenetwork: What's your impression of ice dance right now? Do you feel like you could put yourself somewhere on this world stage?

Virtue: We feel so disconnected right now because it's been two full seasons and a lot has changed. It's such a deep field. We are amazed at the level of ice dance in the world. If anything, we're watching in awe.

Moir: We have a lot of work to do! (laughs)

Virtue: We do. And I think that the cool thing is that in coming back, there is so much of our own skating that we're looking to improve: different styles and directions that we want to go in, working with a fresh team. But this worlds has been so inspiring. It's so great to see ice dance at a level like this.

Moir: We really have a fresh perspective on the sport in watching other teams. We appreciate it. It's been weird to be on the outside looking in because we were in it so thick for so many years. It was nice to take a step back and, like Tessa said, we were just in awe of what these athletes have done. Now it's like, 'Oh crap, we better get to work.'

Icenetwork: How has this time away changed your perspective? It's hard to imagine doing what you did for so long and then truly stepping away.

Virtue: Well, we needed it. There was no way we could have forged through and maintained any sort of composure competing for the entire (Olympic) cycle. What's surprising to us is how much we love the sport and how much we're excited to do basic skating and working back on the fundamentals and stroking and new techniques. We have so much more to learn and explore.

Moir: I think what has really changed in our perspective is that we really appreciate the artist that goes out on a limb and tries new things. While it may not always work, I think, 'Good for them, at least they're breaking away from the field. It's not always successful, but at least they're trying.' I used to be so into the athletic side of it and now coming back, it's more about the art.

Icenetwork: Is there any part of you that worries…

Moir: That we're too old?! (Both laugh.)

Icenetwork: Well, I was going to say is there any part of you that thinks things could go terribly wrong?

Virtue: Of course! And they absolutely could. It's not an easy path that we've set for ourselves, and we're very aware of the work that lies ahead. We're not kidding ourselves.

Moir: We're very aware that there are going to be challenges that we're not aware of.

Virtue: We have to earn our spot again. I think that challenge is part of the driving force. That challenge is what we're trying to look for and embrace.

Icenetwork: Do you set goals then? What are they, if so? Or is it more about respecting the process and just saying 'OK, we're going to try this'?

Moir: I think it's a healthy balance. I think the athlete inside of us wants to be Olympic champions again. We would be lying if we said that wasn't our goal. But in order to get there, we do need to just be concerned with ourselves and think about the art we want to create and the process that we need to take to get there. We have to love it every day, and that's really why we're coming back. We still do love skating every day. We have that same feeling that we had as young kids. That's the same feeling we're chasing. Hopefully that gets us to where our goals want to be.

Virtue: We actually have to approach it differently and make it more about the details and the process and the art. If we can find that balance, then hopefully that takes us there. We've had that conversation: 'What if this is a complete flop? What if we don't enjoy it?' We've played the 'what if' game…

Moir: I think because we're a little bit older, as younger athletes, it's win or bust; you're either Olympic champions or you're nothing. Now as we look back we think, 'Oh, maybe that's not the case.' It's more about going out there and having your moment and telling your story.

Icenetwork: Is the 22 months until PyeongChang enough, though? Is there any part of you that worries it's too little, too late?

Moir: We believe it's enough. It's 22 months from now, but we've been talking about this plan and we had been working in the gym and we knew we were going to be in shows, so we couldn't just rest on our 2014 stamina forever. We started training again to put ourselves in the position so that if we did come back, we would be in that position again.

Virtue: Approaching these next 22 months, it really comes down to planning. Hopefully that is where our experience helps us because it's about peaking at the right time and building the team around you and having the right resources and support staff.

Icenetwork: And how new and different does it feel now that you have a completely new setup in Montreal?

Virtue: It's great. I keep thinking it's the third phase of our career because we moved away from home at young ages and we had Waterloo and then we had Michigan, and I think this is the third phase. I think it makes sense with us right now. We're really thrilled to be working with such a wonderful coaching staff. There is a bit of renewed passion and energy just because it's something fresh.

Moir: It's interesting because we're still learning so much every day. We feel very lucky to have the last 10 years of our career and the base that Marina [Zoueva] and Igor [Shpilband] gave us. And now we're able to build off of that. It's not like we're throwing that all away. It's hopefully our jumping off point.

Icenetwork: There was a lot of tension -- at least it felt like it -- in Sochi with Marina and the two of you. How did things finish with her?

Moir: If anything, there was a lot of tension swirling, especially media-wise, between the four of us: Tessa and I, and Meryl [Davis] and Charlie [White]. After (Sochi), it was kind of a relief. We did a show in Russia, and the four of us had the chance to sit down and have a drink together. And then we toured for a few months after that, and I think that really changed our relationship a little bit. That was really, really interesting. It was such a pressure-cooker of tension, and then all a sudden it was like, 'Oh! Life goes on!'

Icenetwork: What's your favorite passion project from the last two years?

Virtue: We did a lot of work with an organization in Canada called Gold Medal Plates who fundraise for the Olympic committee (in Canada) for initiatives like Own the Podium. It's a really unique organization because they bring together the top musicians and chefs and athletes in Canada, so that has been really neat.

Moir: We finally had the time to do a couple of seminars, and we worked on this grassroots project with Lindt, one of our sponsors, and we were able to go into some of the clubs with skaters and get to spend the day with them. It felt nice to give back to the sport. Personally, it felt good to step back and spend time with family and nieces and nephews and be able to be a contributing member of my family instead of taking all their energy and being so lucky in my life. It felt good to be that for them.

Icenetwork: Lastly, what's a cool thing you did this last couple of years? What really sticks out?

Virtue: I designed a line of jewelry and collaborated with this company called Hillberg & Berk, and that was really thrilling. We did just over 100 pieces. It was something that I had on my mind for so many years, and I had such a clear idea of what I wanted, and they were so open to all of those ideas, and to see it come to life was incredible and emotional. I still see people wearing it and I think, 'Oh my gosh…what?!'

Moir: I'm super proud of you for that. High five! (They high-five.)

Moir: For me, HGTV-inspired, I bought an old house and totally re-did it. We're still in the process, actually. I was so green, and I got laughed at so many times. But it was a cool personal experience because when I walked back into the rink, it was like, 'OK! This is where I belong!'