Chance at two Olympic golds drives Virtue, MoirDespite deep on-ice connection, skaters deny romantic relationship
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have their eyes firmly on the prize.
Or to be precise, two prizes: a second Olympic ice dance gold, to match the one they won four years ago in Vancouver, and Canadian gold in the 10-country team event.
"We're here to fight for an Olympic gold medal in both events," Moir, 26, said at a press conference Thursday. "We made it clear to Skate Canada we want to skate both programs [in the team event].
"It's similar to our plan in Vancouver. We went early and skated full run-throughs in practice. The timing is the same."
If Virtue and Moir succeed, they will achieve a lot of firsts. Winners of the first team figure skating gold. First figure skaters to win two gold medals at the same Olympics. Only figure skating team ever to win three gold medals.
Canada sits second to Russia after the men's and pairs short programs Thursday night. To pull out a win, it likely needs first-place points from Virtue and Moir in both the short dance and free dance segments.
"That's an amazing opportunity, to go after two medals," Moir said. "We're always envious of the speed skaters; it just seems every other day they're going out there to get a medal.
"But that's what makes our moments special: you have to do it in four minutes (the length of a free dance). That's part of the beauty of our sport."
Virtue, 24, thinks two more competitive performances of their programs can only help in the individual event, which begins Feb. 16. The same technical panel will call both events.
"We're here at the Olympic Games; we've trained and prepared to the best of our ability," she said. "We're certainly not thinking of [the team contest] as the 'B' event. If anything, it's a great way to get the feeling of the building, the crowd, and feedback from the [panel]. What we do in practice is about 100 times harder than what we are facing here these two weeks."
Skate Canada has deputized the two as team captain (Moir) and assistant captain (Virtue). Asked if he will deliver a pep talk, Moir pulled out his drollest humor.
"'Team, don't let me down' -- that's my speech," he said.
In the individual event, all signs point to another, perhaps final, showdown with Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The Canadians have not beaten their U.S. rivals since the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships, losing the last four face-offs.
They arrive in Sochi with momentum; their programs have grown stronger with each international event this season. At December's Grand Prix Final, they finished just 1.35 points behind Davis and White.
"The last couple of meetings haven't gone our way, but we feel very confident in the way we've trained this year," Moir said. "We're confident we're peaking at the right time. We're a different team than we even were in December.
"We feel like we're ready to take this one. We feel it's our Games to have, and we're going to win it."
Although they have shared the same coach and choreographer, Marina Zoueva, in Michigan for more than 10 years, the teams approach their work differently. Davis and White are meticulous planners; their free dance to Scheherazade features lifts that are years in the making. They start strong, and adjust and enhance as they go along.
Virtue and Moir often make more substantial changes to their programs, including last season's Carmen and their 2011-12 free dance, set to music from the MGM musical Funny Face.
"It is interesting that two teams, who have trained under the same coach for so long, have these different approaches," Moir said. "The way we work suits us. We have a program, we figure out what works and doesn't work, we go from there."
Their fiery Carmen met with mixed reviews. Some thought it too lustful for a competitive program; others loved its audacious sensuality. This season's free dance, set to the works of Russian composers Alexander Glazunov and Alexander Scriabin, has a more mature version of what Moir once termed "classic Virtue and Moir."
"We wanted to make sure we experimented and pushed the sport, and I think we've done that," Moir said. "And now, we want to win, [but] it's also about [achieving] our goals on the ice.
"This program is about our relationship; it's about our career. I think this is a lot more personal than the Olympic gold medal. Obviously, we're hoping that it takes us there."
So, what exactly is their relationship? The skaters have denied a romantic relationship for years, saying they are simply very close. Their deep connection on the ice, though, encourages many fans to believe otherwise. On Thursday, yet again, the skaters didn't mind the question; it just meant they're doing their job.
"[The free skate] tells the [story] of a young boy, a young girl, working together and going through all of these different ups and down," Moir said.
"It's kind of an interesting partnership we have, friendship we have, whatever you want to call it," he continued. "We don't really know what to call it, but we know that it's special, and we're celebrating that."