Ice Network

Virtue, Moir return to new ice dance landscape

Coaches, teams weigh in on impact of Olympic medalists' comeback
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The return of 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will most directly affect the Canadian dance teams that have progressed during the team's two-year absence. -Sarah S. Brannen

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had a bird's-eye view of the action at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships in Boston last week as ice dance analysts for CBC. The three-time Olympic medalists, who plan to return to competition for the 2016-17 season, gained a big takeaway.

"We have a lot of work to do," Scott Moir told icenetwork's Nick McCarvel.

Moir is right. No one is ready to cede any hard-won ground to Canada's 2010 Olympic gold medalists, who have not competed since winning silver behind Meryl Davis and Charlie White at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi.

Virtue and Moir announced plans in February to train in Montreal under Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice "Patch" Lauzon, meaning they will practice alongside two-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. Marina Zoueva, who coached the couple in Canton, Michigan, from 2003 through Sochi, has a wait-and-see attitude toward her former students' comeback.

"People asked me this after Meryl and Charlie, and Tessa and Scott finished their careers (in Sochi), and I just said their era is kind of done," Zoueva said. "They did a revolution in ice dance. If they want to show something else, something new, probably they can skate. I don't know. They have to start competing, that is number one. First, you have to see them."

Maurizio Margaglio worked with Zoueva as a technical consultant, helping to train the Canadians in their compulsory pattern dances, including the Yankee Polka and Finnstep. He viewed their situation with sympathetic eyes. The 2001 world champion, he and partner Barbara Fusar-Poli retired in 2002 after winning Olympic bronze, but returned to competition for the 2006 Torino Olympics in their home country of Italy. They placed sixth.

"I have big, big respect for them," Margaglio said. "It is such a personal decision, and you have to make it for yourself and not listen to anyone else. I am sure they are feeling fire inside and thinking, 'I have to do it.' The worst would be to not try, and then regret it."

When asked about their competitive prospects, Margaglio agreed with Zoueva.

"It is difficult to forecast or predict; after all, if we knew the future, we wouldn't have competitions," he said. "It is no longer the era of Tessa and Scott, and Meryl and Charlie, and that has opened up a new point of view to many other couples. There is a new, modern way. If [Tessa and Scott] renovate themselves, they can do it."

Virtue and Moir's return has the biggest potential impact on their fellow Canadians, including Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, winners of two Canadian titles and two world medals since Sochi.

"It was a surprise; we weren't aware of it," Poje said in Boston. "But our focus is competing against the very best we can compete against, right now."

"We've filed it for the future, if that. It's all about us right now," Weaver said.

Juris Razgulajevs, who with Carol Lane coaches Canadian silver medalists Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, expressed satisfaction that Canada has three ice dance spots for the 2017 World Championships. (Weaver and Poje placed fifth in Boston, and Gilles and Poirier were eighth.)

"We are sitting solid in second position, so we're still good," Razgulajevs said. "We will see how it goes. Everybody was improving while [Virtue and Moir] were sitting for two years mostly out."

"The middle pack of skaters will think they have less of a chance now, but they still need to go and fight," he continued. "Maybe it will inspire people to work harder."

The top two U.S. teams, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, trained alongside Virtue and Moir for years in Canton. Neither admitted to giving the Canadians' return much thought.

"We've learned in our careers that we really just have to stay focused on our own journey, our own improvement (because) that's all you can control," Maia said. "For us, we feel the momentum we've built this season."

"It's really about us. We're focused on our own journey," Chock said.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who will train alongside Virtue and Moir in Quebec, were the most enthused about the return. Hubbell and Donohue placed a career-best sixth in Boston.

"I find it inspiring having another really great team there," Hubbell said. "We can learn things from them and vice versa. They want to learn things from us, I think."

Donohue was particularly excited about training with Moir, with whom he shared the ice years ago in Canton.

"He's got incredible technique. He's got a way of feeling the music. He's got a charisma that's more important than the other two (qualities)," Donohue said. "He has that, the same way Guillaume has beautiful artistry that only Guillaume can ever have. It's just that special spark that really makes you want to watch and emulate and train yourself up to that level. Not to mention, the dude is funny as heck."

As they did for many years in Canton, Virtue and Moir will once again train alongside the couple marked as their top competition for world and Olympic gold. Papadakis and Cizeron, who set a new free dance world record score in Boston, welcomed the Canadians to Quebec with open arms.

"It is a great advantage having them there to push us," Cizeron said. "We are pretty happy to be able to train with them. We didn't really compete with them much, just once on our first year in senior."

"We've seen them a little bit, and we also did the Art on Ice tour with them," Papadakis said. "They are nice (people)."