Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir: Q&A
Olympic champion Tessa Virtue never really chose to be an ice dancer.
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"Rather, it just happened."
Virtue and her partner, Scott Moir, the two-time world champions from London and Ilderton, Ont., are set to defend their 2010 Olympic gold medal in Sochi.
As they prepare for the 2014 Olympic Games in February, Virtue and Moir talk about how sports have played a role in their lives inside and outside the rink.
I am very superstitious!
Virtue and Moir: Skate Canada International, 2006.
Why are sports important? How have they influenced your life?
Tessa: I come from a very sports-oriented family, so being active has long played a large role in my life. Sports have always provided a unique outlet for me by providing the opportunity to learn about myself (fears, dreams, limits, grit, passion, etc.).
Scott: In my opinion, sport teaches valuable lessons in extremely rewarding circumstances. Young people involved in sport learn to set goals, work with their peers and strive to be their best self. I have always enjoyed being a part of a team and benefitting from lifting the spirits of a teammate one day and having them lift yours the next.
What made you decide on ice dancing?
Tessa: I never really chose to become an ice dancer; rather, it just happened. I was paired with Scott at just seven years of age! However, it didn't take me long to realize that ice dance amalgamated many of my favourite elements of sport - acrobatics, grace of movement, athleticism, creativity, and performance art.
Scott: Ice dance was a part of my life from a young age. My older brother ice danced and like many younger brothers, I wanted to follow in my older brother's footsteps. My first love was hockey, but it seemed the more I skated and danced with Tessa, the more I fell in love with the sport. Next thing I knew I had an extreme passion for the sport.
We are each other's biggest fans
The pair have skated together since 1997.
You won gold in your Olympic debut. This is your second Olympics. How would you describe the pressure this time around?
Tessa: Scott and I always say that we put more pressure on ourselves than anyone else. Heading into our second Olympics, I'd say I feel more stress than ever! We want to make Canada proud, and if we didn't defend our title I worry it would be a disappointment. That said, we are also four years more mature and hopefully we are able to rely on our experience. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to truly be present and embrace each moment.
Scott: Different. The whole Olympic experience is going to be different. I would say that the pressure this time around is more intense. Repeating as Olympic champions is harder than winning your first. However, we have a lot more experience and knowledge to draw on in order to rise to the occasion and be at our best.
You've been partners for a long time. How do you inspire and motivate each other?
Tessa: We are each other's biggest fans. Working together towards common goals is certainly motivating - and especially in an Olympic season, finding inspiration is not a challenge! Scott constantly impresses me with his determination and work ethic.
Scott: For me, motivating Tessa is simple. I still think she is crazy for doing it, but she doubts herself sometimes. I try and remind her she is the best ever and we are going to get through this together. Having each other is really comforting on the hard days.
Do you have a word or mantra that you say to yourself or each other when you're about to step on the ice to compete?
Tessa: The two things we say most as we're about to compete would be "together" and "take our time."
Scott: "Together." Every step. Every moment. Every breath.
Young Tessa Virtue with mom, Kate. [Courtesy Kate Virtue]
What part do your families and your communities play in your training and motivation?
Tessa: My family has had to make unbelievable sacrifices to allow me to pursue my goals. My parents and siblings are my biggest supporters, and I certainly wouldn't be able to do what I do without them! Community involvement is also paramount, and I'm proud to say that both London and Ilderton have come together to help Scott and I in many ways. Needless to say, we have a wonderful support network that we rely on immensely.
Scott: I am so lucky to have a great family and a great community. My family has been there since day one and they care so much more about "Scott, the person" than "Scott, the skater." They give me balance away from the sport and that is why I head home every chance I get. Ilderton, Ont., is an amazing place. We all support each other and I have definitely felt the love and support throughout the community. It makes my journey that much more special knowing that I have so many people in my corner.
Could you talk a little about what's a typical day or week for you as you head towards a major competition like the Olympics? How many hours do you train? Are there certain foods you eat or avoid?
Scott: As we get close to a major competition we actually cut back the hours we are on the ice and make our practices more intense. We will be on the ice between three and four hours a day refining our material and pushing ourselves really hard. Most days we also work off ice for a couple of hours. By the time you train and recover, it is time to go at it again!
The pair at the Canadian National Championships, 2004.
How do you prepare mentally for a competition?
Tessa: Preparing mentally for a competition involves a lot of visualizing - I am constantly going through our programs in my mind. Another important mental aspect is not over-analyzing things, which means it is important for me to have time devoted to relaxing and de-stressing! Usually, this means a good book, or a TV series like Homeland or The Newsroom.
Scott: I use a couple of techniques when preparing mentally. Visualization is one that I find very helpful. I imagine myself performing and exactly how I want to feel. I know I will be nervous and probably a little tight so I allow myself to feel that way but I control these emotions and transform them into positive energy. I remind myself that I am in control of creating the feeling that I want on the ice. After I have successfully visualized many times, I get into the performance and know exactly what to do because I have been there before many times in my head.
A lot of athletes have superstitions. Do you? What are they?
Tessa: I am very superstitious! I always put my left skate on first, place my grandmother's necklace (that I almost always wear) in my right running shoe, wear a safety pin in each costume, and make sure to place my guards at a certain angle on the boards. I realize that makes me sound a bit crazy . . . but hey, athletes are creatures of habit!
Scott: I don't have superstitions. But I try and protect Tessa's.
Tessa, in the book Tessa And Scott: Our Journey From Childhood Dream To Gold, you mention you had to learn both your steps and Scott's for competition because "he's always forgotten his." Is that something you still do?
Tessa: No, I no longer have to learn Scott's steps in addition to mine. Funny enough, I have a really hard time remembering choreography now - I often forget things from one day to the next. Does that mean I'm getting old?
If you weren't in ice dancing, which sport would you be competing in?
Tessa: If I weren't a figure skater, I would have pursued a ballet career (although that doesn't involve competing!)
Scott: I've always loved hockey - I'd probably be left-winger for the men's hockey team. I see myself on a line with [Jonathan] Toews or [Steven] Stamkos, but I could adjust and fit in with Sid [Crosby] if I had to. Is it a problem that I have stone hands?
What role do you expect sports to play in your life when you're no longer competing as an elite athlete?
Tessa: I will always be a huge sports fan and will definitely continue to stay active. I hope to play tennis and work on my golf game - and perhaps pick up a team sport!
Scott: I hope to always be involved in sport and in figure skating. I want to help athletes enjoy and live the opportunities we have been lucky enough to have in our lives. Playing a small role in an athlete's journey would be very fulfilling.
This email interview has been edited and condensed.