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Once in a while, the world’s best ice dance team puts its foot down.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir wanted to skate this year’s free dance — the program that will determine the colour of medal they collect at the Olympics in February — to music from the movie Moulin Rouge.
“There was no other option for us,” Virtue, the 28-year-old Londoner, said Wednesday at Skate Canada’s preseason high-performance training camp at Hershey Centre in Mississauga.
“We just knew we felt this and loved it so much, there was nothing that would compare.”
This is, annually, one of the most delicate decisions in figure skating. You have three or four minutes to tell your story to the world. Once you start putting pieces together and get ready for the fall launch, there’s almost no turning back.
And in an Olympic season, those stakes go through the roof.
You want to put your stamp on something special. Virtue and Moir did that in Vancouver with Mahler’s gold medal-winning Symphony No. 5 in Vancouver.
Now, facing their third Winter Games and likely their final competitive season at the height of their powers, they want memorable.
There’s no time left for stale or clunky.
“We always loved the movie,” said Moir, the 29-year-old Ilderton native.
“We know it’s a (theme) used a lot in figure skating, but as we always do, we try to give our own stamp on it and make it unique. Only a handful of times in our career, we’ve brought music to our coaches and almost insisted we skated to it.
“I don’t know what it’ll look like. It might be a complete mess, but we’re having a blast when we do it. Hopefully, that shows through.”
They were, in effect, tilting at windmills last season. They went undefeated with a record-breaking campaign — their first after a two-year layoff.
They brought in choreographer David Wilson again and called on Sam Chouinard, who had previously helped them with hip-hop movements. They convinced their husband-and-wife coaching team of Patrice Lauzon and Marie-France Dubreuil the famous old cabaret in Paris was the way to go.
“Marie and Pat let us play with it a little bit,” Moir said. “Once they saw our passion, they started to come around a little bit more. We’re super-proud of our 2014 (Olympic silver in Sochi) programs, but one thing we could’ve improved upon was picking something we really connect with . . . we ended up settling below that.
“Marina (former coach Marina Zoueva) made a beautiful program we ended up loving, but this year, we started with these two pieces and didn’t find anything that spoke to us like that.”
They’ve earned that right to be captains of their own ship. It’s the final evolution in the career of the wonder-kids dubbed “Canada’s Sweethearts” so long ago.
“It’s a tough concept because we’re pleasers,” Moir said. “We don’t want to make people upset. It’s kind of new and we struggled with it a bit last year.”
They took all that time away, then moved to Montreal, switched coaches and assembled their B2Ten all-star team to get them back to the top. It’s clear they have become the co-CEOs of Virtue-Moir Enterprises.
“Part of being an athlete is being your own boss,” Virtue said. “We put ourselves out there and we’re the only ones on the ice, but it takes a village. We know that. We need to be surrounded by the right people and we learned how to utilize the members of our team better so we know we can rely on them, reach out for support and approach things in a more scientific way.”
Their table-setting short dance, a Latin theme this season, will be a Dubreuil-produced mix of Rolling Stones, Eagles and a little (Carlos) Santana at the end.
They already own the world record score for the short dance and combined points total from last year’s superb comeback.
“Winning after winning is twice as hard,” Moir said. “I think we like that challenge. We didn’t have the free dance we wanted at worlds (they were topped by French training mates Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron). We were trained and wanted to perform at the level we thought we should have.”
They still won, anyway.
But there are still motivators. They have a chance to become the first duo to score 200 total points.
“The thing is the Olympic record (held by out-of-action Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White from Sochi) sets us up nicely,” Virtue said with a laugh.
The Canadians want to depart with two Olympic golds — and all the benchmarks.
“We’re thinking about it every day,” Moir said. “That’s already started. It’s so funny how quick you’re going to bed every night dreaming about the Olympics.
“You can’t get away from it, almost.”
It’s easier to sleep when your own skates will determine your fate.
ICE DANCE MARKS
(The world and Olympic records in ice dance)
Short dance: Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, 82.43 (2017 worlds)
Free dance: Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron, 119.15 (2017 worlds)
Total score: Virtue/Moir, 198.62 (2017 worlds)
Short dance: Meryl Davis/Charlie White, 78.89 (2014 Sochi)
Free dance: Davis/White, 116.63 (2014 Sochi)
Total score: Davis/White, 195.52 (2014 Sochi)
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