Ice Network

Virtue, Moir return reinvigorated, better than ever

Canadians re-enter competitive scene with renewed sense of purpose
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Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir enjoyed their finest season to date in 2016-17, winning all seven competitions they entered. -Getty Images

When Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took the ice for the Toronto stop of Stars on Ice Canada, they were greeted with thunderous applause. That's nothing new for the ice dance icons, but this year there was a spectacular, recent victory fresh in the minds of the audience.

After a two-year absence from the competitive scene, Virtue and Moir came back to dominate the sport like never before, capping off an undefeated season by winning their third world championship in Helsinki, Finland, on April 1. While they returned with their technical skills as good as ever, it would be absolutely incorrect to say it was like they were never gone; in fact, it was totally like they'd been gone. During their time away, the skaters underwent physical recovery and mental reinvigoration only to emerge a sharper, more inspired version of themselves.

We can dub them Virtue and Moir 3.0, the final act of a drama that has had some decisive twists and turns along the way but is now soaring toward the grand finale at next year's Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. Their consistency, charisma and fresh approach make Virtue and Moir my choice for icenetwork People of the Year.

"We went through the entire spectrum of emotions almost on a daily basis," Virtue said in describing what this season was like for her and Moir. "We talked a lot about the appeal of the comeback and the challenge. We knew that it was going to be the hardest thing of our careers. We had a vision of where we wanted to take our skating, but we knew that it would take a lot of hard work and the right team to get there.

"When we started back, there was that bit of the honeymoon phase where you're enjoying every bit of the process on the ice," she continued. "We kind of expected that to come to an end at some point in the season, where you really get into the grind. We certainly had our ups and downs, but it really was a fulfilling season, and every part of it -- even the hardships -- was a taste of what we've been missing."

Virtue, 27, and Moir, 29, have always found creative ways to push past the technical demands of the international judging system. This season, they seemed to discover new ways to connect with each other and audiences in their competitive performances. Their Prince-inspired short dance quickly established a place for itself in the ice dance pantheon.

"The judging system is very demanding and, technically, there are so many things you have to accomplish in order to get the big marks," Moir said. "Obviously, that's top of mind, but we really rely on our coaching staff. We think that our coaching staff are amazing artists. We have a lot of faith in them. They keep reminding us why we came back. While we want to win, [we also want] to push ourselves to do different things."

After training in the U.S. leading up to the 2010 and 2014 Olympic Games, Virtue and Moir, who grew up in London, Ontario, are now based in Montreal, where they work with Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon and the staff they have assembled at their ice dance school at the Gadbois Centre. The sense of organization and attention to detail that Dubreuil and Lauzon provide help Virtue and Moir feel at ease with training, competing and risk-taking.

"We were able to settle into an efficient and effective training regimen surrounded by such tremendous professionals," Virtue said. "We were able to rely on amazing people around us, from mental preparation to nutrition to osteopathy. It's nice taking the ice and feeling healthy and prepared and mentally equipped with the right tools to compete."

Heading into the 2016-17 season, Virtue and Moir had already etched their names in the history books as both the first Canadian and the first North American ice dance team to win Olympic gold. They have also won world titles in 2010 and '12, two silver medals in Sochi (one in ice dance, one in the team event) and four other world medals (three silver, one bronze). While this season brought their first Grand Prix Final gold, they even found winning familiar titles, like their seventh Canadian championship, garnered fresh enthusiasm.

"At this point in our career, we're very fortunate to come back and still be young enough to have a different experience," Moir said. "Each of our Olympic cycles has been completely different. Winning older is a different feeling, but the key to our success so far is we haven't been focusing on winning. We've been focusing on enjoying the process and trying to deliver a 'moment.' That's been powerful for us."

While the undefeated season -- the first of Virtue and Moir's career -- and a third world title were wonderful, they also were just part of a two-year plan scheduled to culminate in PyeongChang. That plan includes cutting down the team's performing schedule, which meant doing only three cities -- Toronto, Hamilton and London -- on this year's Stars on Ice tour.

"It's tough not to do the whole tour -- it's something we love to do -- but we want to be home training," Moir said. "We want to give both our off-ice team and our on-ice team as much time as we need to create something special. This year should be a lot of hard work and a battle, but we want to enjoy the whole process."

The first phase of that process could not have gone any better. Both skaters agree that this past season was one of their most challenging -- and satisfying -- yet.

Virtue said, "We missed the nerves of competition. We missed the pressure and the stress. We missed waking up with a specific goal every single day.

"It was fun to be athletes again."