Virtue, Moir to make comeback next week

Canadian ice dancers will return at Canadian championships

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir haven't skated in competition since winning the silver medal at the 2008 World Championships in Sweden.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir haven't skated in competition since winning the silver medal at the 2008 World Championships in Sweden. (Getty Images)


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By Laurie Nealin, special to
(01/08/2009) - Blessings-in-disguise. A pierced navel. Pink Floyd. And sand bags.

Those were just four of the topics in an eclectic mix of subjects that Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir chatted about Thursday as they contemplated their comeback at the 2009 BMO Canadian Figure Skating Championships next week in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan.

Canada's world ice dancing silver medalists were forced to pull out of Grand Prix Series this past fall after Virtue underwent surgery in early October to repair painful injuries in both shins. The condition, called chronic exertional compartment syndrome, had been hampering her training for almost a year. When the pain intensified over the summer, Virtue knew she had no choice but to seek relief. The surgery involved cutting the overly tight sheath around the muscles to allow them to expand normally when she skates.

"Obviously, our fall wasn't how we planned it to go. We hit a couple of little speed bumps here, but now I think we're just excited to get to nationals and be back training again. Everything seems to be going really well, so we're just pumped for next week," said the 21-year-old Moir.

Virtue, 19, conceded she will likely have more butterflies than usual when they step on the ice in Saskatoon, because they have not been able to put the usual mileage on their programs.

"Coming back from an injury like this, it's natural to be apprehensive and a little bit nervous, but it's really comforting to know [Scott] will be by my side," Virtue said, noting that she is close to 100 percent recovered.

Despite the setback and the challenge of making their season debut in January, the young couple has not altered its expectations for the big events still to come.

"Onward and upward" is how Moir put it, confirming their intention to be in the fight for the world title in March in Los Angeles.

While Virtue attended to her recovery through physiotherapy, Moir continued to train on his own through October and November. In early December, Virtue returned to the ice for short periods of time, gradually increasing the length of their training sessions to about an hour and a half each day. That is still only about half the hours the couple would usually log.

Reflecting on the time he spent on the ice alone and the hours Virtue put into her recovery off-ice, Moir said, "There was no lack of motivation for either of us. The clock is ticking [to the 2010 Olympics]. Vancouver is always in the back of our minds, so it was a little bit of a different start to the season.

"But it was a blessing in disguise at the same time, because sometimes you forget how much you appreciate your skating partner or how much fun it is to ice dance with somebody until it's not there for a little while. We're definitely rejuvenated and really excited."

Virtue added with a chuckle, "You should all see Scott do our programs by himself, because it's fabulous ... For me, it was tough [getting back to training] just knowing how much further I needed to go, not only because I needed to get back to the level I was, but because Scott had improved so much because he was working so hard. So, I really had to ramp it up."

Moir revealed that his coaches, Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband, were very creative in helping him simulate having a partner in his arms while he was training.

"A lot of my [strength] training was done off-ice as well, because I was not lifting Tessa every day. So, I was substituting for that with various items on the ice and off. It was quite interesting," he chuckled, noting a sand bag and core-strengthening balls filled in for Virtue on various occasions.

Virtue and Moir's free dance is set to music by the famous English rock band, Pink Floyd. French world champions Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, coincidentally, made the same musical choice.

"We seem to be interpreting it very differently, so I think it will add some excitement," Virtue said, looking ahead to the couples' expected meeting at the 2009 World Championships in March.

"It was kind of mixed emotions," said Moir about the prospect of dueling Pink Floyd programs. "Obviously, you don't want to skate to the same music as anyone else. It was kind of interesting when both teams went in such different direction and ended up at the same music, which is very uncommon."

Virtue and Moir's season debut will take place in the building where they made their Canadian championships debut in 2003. That year, the youngsters (then just 13 and 15 years old) finished seventh in the junior ice dancing event.

Getting her belly button pierced is one of the things Virtue recalls most about that week six years ago.

"I'm just trying to think of something else crazy I can do in Saskatoon," she said, laughing.

It is unlikely any other Canadian couple will come close to challenging Virtue and Moir for the national title. With Canada having only two berths for ice dancers at the 2009 Worlds, Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje will likely be the ones battling for the second ticket to Los Angeles.