It’s the final chapter of Canada’s most successful ice dance story.
So when Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir touch down in Sochi for the Winter Olympics, they intend to soak up every second of it.
”I think we might just strap GoPro cameras to our heads,” Moir joked. ”We’re going to try our best to be present. That’s really our goal. We want to take in every moment. It really is a beautiful ride, and we’re going to enjoy every single little bit of it.”
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That ride began in 1997 when Virtue was 7 and Moir was 9, and now, after an Olympic gold medal in 2010 and two world titles, they’re expected to retire after Sochi, closing the book on a partnership that has spanned nearly two decades.
When Virtue and Moir triumphed in Vancouver, becoming the first North Americans to win an Olympic ice dance title and ending more than three decades of European domination, they were the youngest ice dancers to win gold.
But the hours and days that followed were a blur.
”People ask us, `What was it like?’ Some parts I don’t even remember, it was such a whirlwind,” Moir told The Canadian Press. ”Especially right after we won, there are about five days there that have gone missing. You look at photographs and kind of go, `Oh, that was there?”’
Added Virtue: ”It is overwhelming, absolutely. I wish that I journaled more. I remember getting back to the athletes village and thinking, `You can either sleep for half an hour, take a shower, or write in your journal.”’
She chose sleep.
The night after their gold-medal free dance, they met family and friends to celebrate at a Vancouver restaurant, and then were loaded into a car and whisked to the top of Grouse Mountain for a 3 a.m. television appearance and photo shoot.
”At some point, and nobody really asked us, they said, `We want to take a photo with your medal now.’ And it’s 3 a.m. Bags under my eyes. Those pictures were beauties,” Moir said.
Mixed with the exhaustion were feelings of relief. Virtue later revealed she was far from 100 percent healthy in Vancouver and had competed in pain so severe that just the 10-minute walk from her room at the athletes village to the cafeteria was excruciating.
She suffered from compartment syndrome in her legs, a condition caused when muscles can’t expand within the tissue that contains them.
Virtue had undergone surgery in 2008 on her shins. During her recovery, Moir practiced alone in Detroit, often using a hockey stick or a sandbag as a stand-in for Virtue.
She had a second surgery on her legs in the fall of 2010, which proved more successful.
The skaters are known for their innovative lifts and intricate spins and can completely capture an audience with their elegance and chemistry.
The six-time Canadian champions have pushed ice dancing to new limits with their virtually unmatched mix of athleticism and art. They will need all of it to hold off reigning world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States, who also happen to be their training partners.
”We have the opportunity to make people feel something, feel some emotion, and then also we get to be just pure athletes, and from a pure technical standpoint do things really technically demanding, and very challenging,” Virtue said. ”So it’s that balance between the two that we love. And we love to play with the limits and push ourselves.”
Their free dance for Sochi is to ”The Seasons” by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov. After the passion and drama of last season’s ”Carmen” program, this year’s free skate is more reminiscent of the romance and grace of their Vancouver Olympic free dance to Gustav Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.
”The Seasons” mirrors the story of their partnership, from their early success that included a world junior title through the more turbulent times. The final 30 seconds of the 4-minute program represents Sochi. Their final pose is an elegant bow, one last salute to cap a couple of wonderful careers.
It’s not easy, the two say, being the defending Olympic champions.
”I feel a lot more pressure this time because it’s almost as if anything other than a gold medal is a disappointment,” Virtue said. ”I think that’s what people are expecting of us and I think that’s what we’re expecting of ourselves. And so that’s daunting. It’s a little bit scary and frightening, and sometimes I stop and think, `Why do we put ourselves through this?’
”But at the same time, you talk to someone like (former Canadian rowing star) Marnie McBean and she said to us, `No one can take your gold medal away from you from Vancouver. You will always be Olympic champions. It doesn’t define you and that’s not who you are.”’