Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are one dance away from winning their third career Olympic gold medal.
Team Canada’s Opening Ceremony flag bearers broke their own world record mark in Monday’s short dance, earning 83.67 points to sit in first place, 1.74 points ahead of their top rivals Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue are in third place with 77.75 points.
“The score is, kind of as cliché as it is, just an exclamation point. We skate for the feeling,” said Moir. “It’s something to go out on that stage for us, with that amount of pressure. People, I think, assume that we know how to handle it because we’ve been doing it for so long. That’s not the case.”
“I felt more nervous today, probably in the top three in my career and to go out there and to connect with each other and to be able to perform and execute that is really why we came back,” he added
Virtue and Moir set themselves apart in the short dance by both their choice of music and their technical skills. With all couples required to do a rhumba pattern while performing to Latin music, they had selected classic rock by the Rolling Stones, the Eagles and Santana as their vehicle. On the day, they were the only couple to achieve level four on all of their technical elements.
That was a vast improvement on what they did in the short dance during the team event in PyeongChang, where they were called for a level two on their rhumba pattern and a level three on their midline step sequence, scoring just 80.51 points.
“We tip our caps to the coaching staff. They really kind of tore apart the tape,” Moir said of their team event short dance. “We knew that right after both performances that we knew we could do better and in our training we’ve been doing that, just to make sure to take advantage of every point.”
After winning gold in the team event, Virtue and Moir escaped the Olympic bubble for a few days, retreating to Seoul with their fellow Canadian ice dancers, Kaitlyn Weaver & Andrew Poje and Piper Gilles & Paul Poirier. All three duos were in search of a more regular schedule and greater practice time than they could get at the Olympic venue.
Weaver and Poje finished eighth in the short dance with 74.33 points, while Gilles and Poirier are one spot behind them with 69.60 points.
“It was really important to step away, especially after the team event, there’s always a bit of crash post-competition,” Virtue said, noting that they got some quality sleep in addition to extra ice time. “It’s nice to have those new focuses, those fresh cues, then stepping back with a different purpose, a different attitude, a different energy.”
With the team event gold as well as the 2010 Olympic title on their resume, Virtue and Moir are in position to join some of figure skating’s greatest legends as the only triple Olympic gold medallists in the sport. Preceding them are: Swede Gillis Grafstrom, who three straight men’s singles titles from 1920 to 1928; Norwegian Sonja Henie, who won the women’s singles event from 1928 to 1936; and Irina Rodnina, who captured pairs titles in 1972, 1976 and 1980 for the Soviet Union with two different partners.
Any colour of medal would be their fifth at the Olympic Games, which would be a figure skating record.
Virtue and Moir had come to PyeongChang with the highest ever score in the short dance, the 82.68 points they had earned at Skate Canada International in late October. But in their only previous meeting this season, it was Papadakis and Cizeron who had gotten the edge at the Grand Prix Final, where they scored 82.07 points to Virtue and Moir’s 81.53. That had led to the Canadians’ first loss since they returned from a two-year hiatus after Sochi 2014.
Which team will be the Olympic victor will be decided in Tuesday’s free dance. Virtue and Moir drew the last position of the 20 couples who advanced while Papadakis and Cizeron will skate two spots ahead of them with Hubbell and Donohue in the middle.
Moir is looking forward to it.
“This is what we’ve been working for, just that shot. Knowing that we had that today and we will tomorrow, that’s an athlete’s dream.”
“We’re allow ourselves to relish in this moment for maybe 15 more minutes and then we will regroup and focus for tomorrow,” said Virtue. “We can’t try and create magic, we can’t try to create a moment, it just has to happen and I think we are trained enough that it will.”