Ice champs embrace ‘sense of calm’
Tessa Virtue of London and Scott Moir of Ilderton say they’re not feeling much pressure as they train with Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. (Dave Abel/Postmedia News)
The only year that Skate Canada International gold eluded ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, they were left looking up at their future atop the podium.
It was 2006 in Victoria. Grizzled veterans Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon put up 196.68 points and waltzed away with the title. Virtue and Moir, in their first year on the senior circuit, were a distant second, more than 25 points in arrears, not to mention in awe.
“We had looked up to them so much,” Moir said last week on a conference call. “What’s special with that, and we’ve talked about this a lot as well, was how they always looked out for us and were mentors for us. To be on the podium with Pat and Marie-France at such a young age” — Moir was 19, Virtue 17 — “was a pleasure.”
More than a decade hence, Dubreuil and Lauzon are still guiding their successors, though this time to the finish line, as coaches rather than mentors. It allows for an apt closing of the circle, should Virtue and Moir follow through on plans to retire again. It also contributes to the sense of peace they are enjoying while all around them other skaters endure the frenetic machinations of an Olympic season.
“There is a strange sense of calm that we feel in our training,” said Virtue. “Of course our nerves are there, the pressure is there, we know that the anxiety will come. We’re expecting it and ready to embrace it because that’s in large part why we want to compete again. We also feel we’re right where we should be in a lot of ways.”
They are in Montreal, having moved their training base out of Michigan to be with Dubreuil and Lauzon. They also surrounded themselves with an expert team that includes a nutritionist, physiotherapist, strength and conditioning coach, mental preparation expert, acting coach and choreographers.
They have put in the work and then some, knowing that relying solely on their two decades worth of experience together — though clearly an advantage over the rest of the field — would be foolhardy.
After winning a third world title last spring, they skipped summer touring in favour of an early return to working on the mechanics of their programs, to rewire some movement patterns.
The plan has been plotted meticulously and executed to perfection. They are calm and confident, in stark contrast to their demeanour in previous Olympic seasons.
“Serenity feels different,” said Virtue.
It feels better. It descended upon them after a valuable chat with two–time Olympic rower Marnie McBean, who has been a mentor of theirs for years. She talked them through expectations for a third Olympic cycle — about reliving the magic and exhilaration — and they came away relieved.
“We had our ducks in a row,” said Virtue.
The season starts in earnest on Friday in Regina, where they will compete for the first time, though it will be their eighth Skate Canada International. It should also be their last. But for these two, knowing when to say when hasn’t exactly been a strength. They shut it down after Sochi, but roared out of retirement last season to win everything in sight and set scoring records along the way.
“We’re quick to say we don’t know, because we thought for sure we were done in 2010 and we really thought for sure we were done after Sochi,” said Moir. “We used to laugh at the idea of going to the Olympics in Korea — and look where we are.
“So we’re not going to say that we’re done for sure, but when Tessa and I talk about it and look at each other, the feeling is that this is it. You never know, obviously, and we won’t have to make that decision until we’re there.”
There is a season to enjoy first. They like their ambitious free dance to music from the movie Moulin Rouge — Moir calls it a complex telling of the story — and they are excited about the potential fan appeal of the short program, with music from The Rolling Stones (Sympathy for the Devil), The Eagles (Hotel California) and Carlos Santana (Oye Como Va). The songs were penned in the ‘60s and ‘70s, long before Virtue and Moir were around.
“They’re pretty epic songs,” said Moir. “Yes, they were before our time, but obviously they’ve kind of withstood the test of time. They’re still some of the best music. That’s the generation of music that in many ways we connect to the most.
“I think what’s funny is a lot of the younger teams that we skate with probably think we were around when those songs came out, because they think we’re dinosaurs.”
Truth is, after 20 years together, after Olympics and world championships gold, they are still relevant, still on the cutting edge of their discipline. That longevity makes them classics, maybe icons, but certainly not dinosaurs.