Road To The Olympic Games

Olympic champs Virtue, Moir chase world title

Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have one more goal to sew up on a long and exhausting season, and that's gold at the world championships — the one medal that's eluded the Canadian team.

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir might be newly minted Olympic champions, but the Canadian ice dance darlings of the Vancouver Games left all the hoopla and celebrity behind the moment they left the West Coast.

They had one more goal to sew up on a long and exhausting season, and that's gold at the world championships — the one medal that's eluded them.

"[The Olympic title] is pretty cool but we tried to leave that feeling as much as we could in Vancouver because as soon as we got on the plane to come home, we knew we had to refocus on this week's job," Virtue said Monday. "We've been in Michigan which is sort of nice, we're kind of isolated there in a sense, so it's just back to normal training.

"This is a huge deal, this is a huge title we want to get so we're kind of trying to forget about the Olympics and carry on that momentum."

Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., captured Canada's first Olympic ice dance gold in Vancouver, thrusting the couple into Canada's sporting spotlight.

They made sure to enjoy the celebrity in the final few frenzied days of the Games, being whisked from this party and that appearance, including NBC's Today Show that required a middle-of-the-night gondola ride up Grouse Mountain only a few hours after they skated to gold.

"The last six days were a total blur, we didn't get any sleep, I don't even know if we really ate, it was kind of crazy. But it was so much fun," Virtue said at practice less than 24 hours after landing in Italy.

They also became one of sport's most endearing couples in Vancouver — even though off the ice, they're really not. They find the constant queries about any romantic involvement kind of funny.

'Doing our job'

"We love that stuff, because a lot of the stories we tell on the ice relate to that," Moir said. "That just means we're doing our job."

The world championships open Tuesday with the compulsory dance and pairs short program.

Virtue and Moir's main competition will again come from Olympic silver medallists Meryl Davis and Charlie White, their friends and training partners in Michigan. Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, bronze medallists in Vancouver, aren't competing in Turin.

In men's singles, Patrick Chan of Toronto, the reigning world silver medallist, hopes to make up for his disappointing Olympic debut where he finished fifth.

Kim Yu-Na of South Korea, who lives and trains in Toronto with Canadian coach Brian Orser, is the runaway favourite for women's gold, after her stunning victory at the Vancouver Games. Canada's Joannie Rochette, who won bronze in Vancouver less than a week after the death of her mom, pulled out of the event.

Canadians Jessica Dube and Bryce Davison, world pairs bronze medallists in 2008, hope to climb back on the podium after a disappointing sixth-place finish in Vancouver.

The Canadian team captured three medals last year in Los Angeles — silver from Chan and Rochette, and bronze from Virtue and Moir.

Unlike several other skaters who called it a season after success in Vancouver — American Evan Lysacek opted not to compete here after winning the men's gold and is now a contestant on Dancing With the Stars — Virtue and Moir had been set on competing in Turin from the beginning of the season. That unwavering focus, they say, helped them work through the inevitable emotional post-Olympic letdown.

Unsure of immediate future

"We were really expecting that (letdown) and kind of worked it into our training schedule," Virtue said. "We knew we were going to do both — Olympics and worlds — this year so definitely not having that question of whether we were going to do it or not made it easier on us. But we knew we would have at least a week of an emotional down."

After four years of intense focus on Vancouver, the skaters say they're unsure of what their immediate future holds. And while they sounded like they were considering retirement on a conference call last week, both said Monday that's not necessarily the case.

"It's just not fair to each other if we announce that we're skating because we haven't talked about it, we're still in our season, we still have this big event, and it's not the time for the two of us to sit down and make a four-year commitment," Virtue said. "It's just more out of respect for one another, we want to get on the same page before we announce to the world what our plans are."

To consider: Virtue and Moir have already captured Olympic gold and both silver and bronze at world championships. A gold in Turin would give them the final medal that's missing. 

On the other hand, Virtue is just 20, while Moir is 22, making them the youngest ice dance champions in history. If they continued skating with similar success, they could become one of the most remarkable ice dance teams ever. 

"That's exactly what we need to think about," Virtue said.

"A lot of our goals have nothing to do with placement," Moir pointed out. "We'll know when our skating career is over by how we think we've progressed over the years, and if we think we've got to a place where we're not going to get any better, then it's time to retire."

Neither has a clear picture of post-skating pursuits. Virtue is studying psychology at the University of Windsor, about a 45-minute drive from their training base in Canton, Mich., and plans to resume her studies after taking this past semester off. Moir said he'd like to go to school, but isn't sure what he'll study.

Anticipating normal life

The two, who've been a team for the past 13 years, said a normal life would be nice.

"We don't really have normal lives, so much like any athlete, I think there's some side of that that's appealing," Virtue said. "Though we've missed out on a lot of normal experiences, we've also had the opportunity to do a lot of amazing things, so it's kind of give and take."

"I'm sure once you're on that side, you're going to look back and think, wow, those were some amazing years. I wish we were still living them," Moir added.

Until a month ago, most Canadians didn't know who Virtue and Moir were, and they haven't had time to capitalize on their newfound fame since, besides dropping the puck at a couple of NHL games. Lysacek, at the other extreme, has been on everything from The View to The Ellen Degeneres Show.

After pushing most requests for public appearances to the back burner, Virtue and Moir said they plan on making up for it after Turin.

"We decided that we wanted to do this competition and that was going to be priority one and if we wanted to come here and be successful, we couldn't do any of the other perks," Moir said. "I think we'll definitely be taking a little bit of a longer vacation and taking more of the perks, last year we shut the door to everything which has obviously worked out for us, but this summer I think we'll take advantage of some of the opportunities that come our way."

"There's a short window of opportunity to kind of maximize on the spotlight that was on, not just us but figure skating and the sport in general, from the Olympics," Virtue added.

After Turin, the two will skate in the Stars on Ice Tour in Japan and then do the full Canadian tour, which begins in Halifax.

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