When Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir announced in late 2016 that they were making a comeback, many wondered why.
Why re-enter the world of competitive figure skating when they had already won everything they could win? (Well, pretty much everything, but we'll get back to that later.) Why the roll the dice?
David Pelletier, the 2002 Olympic pairs champion with partner Jamie Sale, says he wouldn't have done it.
"Never. Ever. Ever," says Pelletier. "I was one of those athletes that, once I accomplished something and moved on, I was satisfied and I never felt that I needed to go back in time and repeat. I remember being in Torino in 2006 and having no desire to be out there."
Pelletier's experience has only deepened his respect for his fellow Canadians.
"I feel everyone has their own reason or motivation to come back, and if you do it for the right reason it makes you that much better. I have extremely high admiration for [Virtue and Moir]," he says."
American ice dancer Charlie White, who along with Meryl Davis defeated Virtue and Moir to win Olympic gold in 2014, says his former rivals' comeback has been great for the sport.
"They are such amazingly gifted skaters that just bringing them back into the fold raises the excitement, raises the level of professionalism, and the level of talent to such a degree that it is really tremendous to behold," says White, who decided along with Davis to not defend their Olympic title next year after taking this season off.
Both Virtue and Moir can sum up to their return to skating in a single word. For Scott, it's "fun." For Tessa, it's "fulfilling."
Their results bear that out. They're undefeated since their return.
Back and better than ever
Virtue and Moir's comeback season started in earnest last fall at the Skate Canada International event in Mississauga, Ont., where ice dance commentator and Olympic bronze medallist Tracy Wilson was immediately impressed.
"I knew [then] that their reasons for coming back to competition were pure because they went after their vulnerabilities and they fixed them," Wilson says.
"They came back to the sport to learn and be better, and they are better."
Next up was the NHK Trophy event in Sapporo, Japan, and the first time that Virtue and Moir would meet the two-time world champions from France, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. This meeting of old and new ice dance titans was wildly anticipated and neither team wanted anything except to put their best foot forward. Ultimately, Tessa and Scott owned the short, free and overall scores to take the title.
Marseille, France, the home of this season's Grand Prix Final, would be a litmus test to gauge the progress that Virtue and Moir were making. They had never won the prestigious event, despite five previous attempts resulting in four silver medals.
This time was different, and Tessa and Scott's win was decisive on the home turf of their new French rivals. The final jewel in their crown was finally in place.
Virtue and Moir's ice dance domination continued to pick up speed with their seventh Canadian national title in January 2017 and their third Four Continents win on the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympic ice surface in February.
Make no mistake, none of these results were "gimmes." Virtue and Moir had to consistently outperform the other skaters. They take nothing for granted, knowing other teams are aiming for them.
As White says, "It has brought out the best in the other teams in part because Tessa and Scott have returned."
Never missed a beat
The final test came at last week's world championships in Helsinki.
The short dance was magical, with Tessa and Scott posting a new world-record score. Papadakis and Cizeron faltered a bit, with Cizeron pushing through despite cutting his hand while trying to grab his blade during their twizzle sequence. That cut cost him two stitches and a few points in their score.
Enter the free dance. Tessa and Scott had the audience at hello. The edges were there, the speed, the freedom... and then Scott stumbled. There was an audible gasp from the audience.
But, after a quick recovery, they continued almost as if the bobble had never happened.
Papadakis and Cizeron skated with the same kind of abandon. They were flawless, moving some members of the audience to tears. Their speed, passion and mastery of technique produced a world-record score in the free dance, but it wasn't enough to deny Virtue and Moir their third world title — and first since 2012.
As Tessa and Scott came through the mix zone to talk to the press after being crowned the new world champions, what struck me most, as it always has, is their ease with one another. They can finish each other's sentences. They always support one another — a by-product of an extraordinarily productive, successful and healthy 20-year partnership.
Here's what they had to say when I caught up with them after their big win at worlds:
In a playful moment, CBC's Scott Russell asked Scott Moir what happened after the stumble. Moir replied with a laugh that Tessa had jokingly whispered to him "Well, that was dramatic," as they continued on — never missing a beat.
Theirs is a relationship to be studied, admired and emulated on so many levels.
Tracy Wilson said what many of us were already thinking: "They make me feel like I'm seeing something special."