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Virtue, Moir destined to end dance drought

Canadians poised to win Canada's first ice dance medal in the Olympics in 20 years

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the gold in dance at Canadian Nationals.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the gold in dance at Canadian Nationals. (Getty Images)

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By Laurie Nealin, special to icenetwork.com
(03/27/2008) - Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir appear destined to end Canada's 20-year Olympic medal drought in ice dance. With their impressive, silver-medal showing at last week's 2008 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Sweden, the young couple's star is burning brighter than ever.

But whether or not they will be the only Canadian dance duo contending for the Olympic podium remains to be seen.

Performing this season with the Stars on Ice troupe, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, Canada's world silver medalists the previous two years, have not discounted resurrecting their own Olympic dream. Their 2006 medal aspirations were dashed in Turin when a bad fall in the original dance forced them to withdraw from the event.

"We will take a good month off after the Canadian [Stars] tour and do nothing involved with skating, then decide if we feel we have what it takes to come back -- the passion, the energy to train every day for four or five hours," Lauzon said.

"That's why we stopped and decided to take a year off because we didn't have that fire and passion any more. It's one thing to train, it's another if you are training to win a world championship or an Olympic medal. You need that extra passion," he added.

It is clear, however, that their passion for each other is as strong as ever.

Lauzon proposed to Dubreuil last November in Lake Placid. They will marry Aug. 23 in Montreal. After 11 years as a couple, Lauzon chose the 11th day of the 11th month to pop the question. "Eleven is also [our] lucky number," he said.

Lauzon concedes that planning their wedding could divert their attention from planning their possible comeback, at least for part of the summer, although they might hire a professional wedding planner to take care of some of the arrangements.

As for Virtue, 18, and Moir, 20, passion for training is not something they lack. They intended to be back on the ice in Michigan within days of returning from Sweden.

"We're getting our heads thinking about music and what direction we want to take it. You gotta start now, get yourself organized. No holiday yet," Moir said.

"We won't be training like we're going to worlds next week, but we'll be training and take holidays in May."

Virtue and Moir are hoping to do some guest appearances with the Canadian Stars on Ice tour, which begins in mid-April. They will star, as always, in their home club's end-of-season ice show in the small Ontario town of Ilderton.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world!" Moir exclaimed. "It's always good to go back for the club show and give back a little bit."

In Sweden, Virtue and Moir's magical "Umbrellas of Cherbourg" free dance was judged best of the best. If not for Virtue's twizzle trouble in the original dance, they might well have been golden in Gothenburg.

"This world championship was huge for us. It really sets us up well," said Virtue. "It's a great confidence boost heading into next season. We just have to keep working hard and focus on the task at hand, realizing it is possible to be on the podium in 2010, and just go for it."

Dubreuil, 32, and Lauzon, 33, watched the world championships online, although an erratic feed resulted in less than optimal viewing.

"I was very happy to see the French team win because we trained with them for the past five years," Lauzon said, referring to gold medalists Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder.

"And I was really happy for the Canadians [Virtue and Moir]. I thought they were amazing. I'm pretty proud of them," he said.

Dubreuil and Lauzon watched worlds unfold with mixed feelings. "It was the first worlds we missed in eight years, so for sure we were sad not to be there, but at the same time we're really happy where we are right now -- on the tour. That's why we're still pondering a decision," Lauzon explained.

Despite Virtue and Moir's second-place finish, Canada will have just two berths for the 2009 World Figure Skating Championships because the country's two other entries finished far back in the field.

If Dubreuil and Lauzon were to return next season, that would almost guarantee Canada three spots for the Olympics in 2010, not to mention a powerful one-two punch in the medal-contenders department.

"If we do come back, I would love to see us and them fighting against each other and the world. At the same time, I think it would be amazing if Canada could have two medals at Olympics. It would be one of the greatest things that could happen for ice dance in Canada.

"But that's a decision that we're not even close to making," Lauzon emphasized. "We're really going to take our time on that one."

Skate Canada does not intend to try to convince the veterans to return. CEO William Thompson said he has faith in the younger couples coming up and is confident his team will be back up to three berths "before too long."

"Size [of the team] is nice, but it's not the most critical thing; strength of the team is," Thompson said.

Moir has seen his former teammates perform this season and figures it wouldn't take much for them to return to fighting form.

"We love traveling with them. They were such great role models for us last year and are such great friends. I don't know what they're doing, but we'd love to have them back. Whatever they choose to do, I'm sure it will be the right decision for them," Moir said.

Asked if he felt the world judging panel would be comfortable with the idea of having two Canadian couples on the podium, Lauzon said, "That's something we don't have control of and that you cannot worry about when you're competing. But, if the Russians can do it [throughout the 1970s, '80s and '90s], why not Canadians?"

Canada's last Olympic ice dance medal -- a bronze -- came courtesy of Tracy Wilson and Rob McCall in 1988, on home turf in Calgary.