TORONTO (Reuters) - Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir took ice dancing gold at their first Olympics in Vancouver eight years ago and silver in their second at Sochi in 2014 before hanging up their skates, certain they had achieved all they could.
However, the lure of the ice — and of competition — proved too strong for the legendary Canadian pair, bringing them out of retirement in the 2016-17 season for a record-setting second stint of their two-decade long partnership.
“When we thought about the 2018 Olympics and not being there, knowing that physically we still probably had a chance, that just didn’t sit well with us,” the 28-year-old Virtue told Reuters.
“We’re such competitors and we really would have missed out. Now that we’re back it is just affirmation that we made the right decision. We know we are in the right place.”
At Skate Canada this year, they set a new record score with their routines: a catchy Latin-themed short dance to a medley of Rolling Stones, Eagles and Santana songs, and a powerful, emotive free dance to the “Moulin Rouge” score.
They were undefeated until the Grand Prix Final in December, when the French team of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron took the gold, setting the stage for an Olympic showdown next month in Pyeongchang.
Moir and Virtue were first paired in 1997 by his aunt, their then-coach, and have continued to take nothing for granted ever since, with the 30-year-old even describing himself as “terrified” before their initial comeback event.
“We were in training, everything felt normal, and we got to the point of competing, which is supposed to be our strong suit,” he said.
“We have all this experience, we’ve done so many shows, and I remember feeling so much electricity running through my body, more than I ever have my whole career. That pressure really got to me and all of a sudden we made a mistake... We didn’t unravel but we were just kind of shocked.
“It was spooky, a little, but was a good reminder that just because we had success competing in the past doesn’t mean it is a given that we are going to be good again,” he added. “You have to work for it.”
The two have long been known for their rapport, prompting speculation that they are a couple.
Virtue has, however, described their relationship as “complicated” — not like dating, not like siblings and not like a husband and wife. Moir said they grew up together and spent a lot of time in the car, listening to music.
“When it comes to skating we have similar tastes,” Virtue said. “We are open to one another’s ideas as well.
“If I see Scott passionate about a piece of music and if he has a strong desire to skate to it, it’s likely I will feel the same because there’s something tangible about that energy.”
When they topped the podium in 2010, they became the first, and so far only, ice dancers to win gold on their Olympic debut. In Sochi, they came second to Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States, who have since retired.
The pair thrive on competition. Asked if they felt they had a target on their backs, Moir said: “I hope so. I love it.”
Their competitiveness has now been challenged by Papadakis and Cizeron after they lost out to the French pair at the Grand Prix Final.
“Now it’s kind of looking forward to the Olympics, which will be the next time we get to go head-to-head with them, and we’re pretty motivated,” Moir told a news conference after the competition.
“We’re not a team that likes coming in second, much like them, so it’ll be a pretty intense competition.”
Writing and additional reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by John O'Brien