Before they stepped onto the ice for their free dance in Sochi in 2014, Scott Moir told Tessa Virtue, “No matter what, we’re together, no matter what, I love you, and no matter what, we’re gonna enjoy this”.
Although Sochi didn’t bring the results they wanted, Moir’s statement became the foundation for and the driving force behind their journey to the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang. Since announcing their comeback in February 2016, Virtue and Moir have stuck to one refrain: this time, it’s for us.
That attitude, in the end, may have been what pushed them over the top to a second Olympic individual gold.
In what was likely their final competitive skate, Virtue and Moir left everything they had on the ice. From an opening lift involving Virtue leaping backward to wrap her legs around Moir even as she faces the judges to the triumphant yet devastating ending where Virtue’s character ‘dies’, their Moulin Rouge free dance raises the captivating passion these two are known for to new heights.
Moulin Rouge was a program many people didn’t want them to choose. It’s undeniably overused by skaters, and the people around them pushed Virtue and Moir to find something else. But they fought for it, and each time they skated it you could see why. This free dance is a love story that demands the utmost from its stars, and each performance evoked feelings of watching Virtue and Moir tear out their own hearts and leave them on the ice.
“No one told us to skate to Moulin Rouge, we did it for us,” Moir said in the Roxanne mini-documentary the pair shot for CBC prior to the Olympics. “We did it because when I hear that music…I think of Tess, I think of skating. It just seems to fit.”
Virtue and Moir have made it clear through the years that mutual respect and love is the foundation of their partnership, and that love extends to and feeds their shared love of the sport. It is seen in the unending hours of work they put into making each and every detail perfect.
That attention to detail was the driving force behind their undefeated 2016-17 season. After two years where they only skated shows, each pursuing their own separate interests rather than training for competition, Virtue and Moir knew they had catching up to do.
December 2015 found the pair working on a show program with Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, ice dancers turned up-and-coming coaches and choreographers, and longtime friends and mentors of Virtue and Moir. The fluff piece produced about the process sparked rumors of a comeback, and those sparks were fanned by the choreography itself, seemingly too technical and difficult for a simple exhibition.
They confirmed the news in February 2016, and moved to Montreal to train with Dubreuil and Lauzon at their Gadbois Skating School, a hotbed of both ice dance and pairs skating talent. Once again, they found themselves training alongside their biggest competition—Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, a young team already being touted as gold medal favorites for Pyeongchang.
Fortunately for Virtue and Moir, training against their competition is a situation where they thrive. We saw it when they trained with Meryl Davis and Charlie White under Marina Zueva, and we witnessed it yet again in Montreal as they pushed themselves and their skating to even greater heights.
At the 2017 Canadian Figure Skating Championships they set national records in the short and free dances, and total score. They then broke their own world record short dance score at the 2017 World Championships in Helsinki, and set a new world record with their total score. At the Pyeongchang Olympics, they broke both of those records.
Virtue and Moir’s electrifying connection was on full display this season. Between their sexy short dance—who can forget Moir practically devouring Virtue’s neck during the Olympic team event?—to the passion-filled Moulin Rouge, the two were all-in this season. But Virtue and Moir aren’t just captivating performers. They’re also technical masters of their sport.
I could wax poetic for hours about how the pair have turned twizzles, a required element that once plagued and defeated them, into one of the most musically beautiful elements of their programs.
Virtue and Moir, and their coaches, keep the twizzles themselves simple, choosing features—arm movements or any extra choreography between twizzles, for example—that, when compared to their competitors, look almost basic. Maia and Alex Shibutani have one of the most complicated twizzle sequences in the world, and always perform it beautifully, and Virtue and Moir’s training mates Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue have a fascinatingly unique choreographic twizzle sequence this season.
Simplicity here could be a drawback for some, but Virtue and Moir take it and make it look phenomenal by pairing their twizzle sequences with perfect and memorable places in their music. Last season it was the guitar riff in Prince’s “Purple Rain”; this year it is the guitar riff in Carlos Santana’s “Oye Como Va” and the emphatic beginning of “El Tango de Roxanne” from Moulin Rouge. It’s a perfect example of how good their instincts are for what works in this sport, and how to best use their strengths and balance any weaknesses.
Prior to taking the ice for a competition skate, Virtue and Moir hug for several minutes to sync their breathing and heartbeats. It seems to work. While their synchronization has been an area of strength throughout their careers, since their comeback it has been almost flawless, right down to the flicks of their fingertips.
One place it has always been evident is in a required ice dance element called the non-touching midline step sequence. Skaters have to complete a step sequence in unison, traveling across the ice while not in dance hold. It’s something Virtue and Moir do very well, not just skating in perfect unison but skating closer together than most teams are able to do, and really displaying their creativity. Moulin Rouge and their Latin Rock short dance from this season are each wonderful examples, but the step sequence in their “Dream a Little Dream” short dance from the 2014 Olympics might be one of the best ever.
“Long Time Running”, a Tragically Hip song, soundtracks this season’s exhibition, a glorious tribute to their twenty-plus years together. The program contains some recognizable elements, including their signature move “The Goose” that became iconic during their free dance in Vancouver in 2010 and the choreographic entry to their twizzle sequence from 2014’s “Seasons” free dance in Sochi.
“So much of it is about what we build together and for me it’s been like that in my life, where sometimes I might not have the power to do it for myself but I will always do it for Tess,” Moir told CBC in a pre-Olympic fluff piece, a statement that feels like a fitting summary of the last two decades.
For 21 years now, Virtue and Moir have forged a bond that has brought us some of the best ice dance programs in the history of the sport. Their respect and love for one another is clear, and it is wonderful and fitting to see them go out on top. Their return spurred the other top ice dance teams to push themselves, working even harder to reach their potential, and as a result the last two years have been a truly stunning era in modern ice dance.
It feels more right to let them go, and to let the sport move on, now that we have witnessed their triumphant moment of realization in the kiss and cry in Pyeongchang. They did it. They left it all on the ice, and it was enough.
Virtue and Moir leave the sport as the most decorated ice dance medalists in history. Five Olympic medals, three gold and two silver, across three Olympic games, is a legacy that stand unmatched for a long time—possibly forever. The mark they will leave on the sport of ice dance is undeniable. They’re legends.
It’s never just sports. It’s the people, and the mark that they leave. Being able to watch this comeback over the last two years, knowing what came before it, has been a pleasure and a privilege. There are no words that could truly do this partnership justice.
So I’ll just say thank you, Scott and Tessa, for your art, and for sharing it with us. To paraphrase Gord Downie, it’s been well worth the wait.