World record puts Virtue, Moir in prime position for gold
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World record puts Virtue, Moir in prime position for gold

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada perform during the ice dance, short dance figure skating in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Monday, Feb. 19, 2018. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/David J. Phillip

GANGNEUNG, South Korea — No, that on-ice connection you see between Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir isn’t just two skaters who also happen to be incredibly good actors. But simmer down, it’s not what you think and maybe (probably?) hope.

“After 20 years, if you don’t have love for each other—I mean, do you know what we’ve been through together?” Moir said, his brow furrowed, standing next to Virtue, both of them wearing Team Canada issued red sneakers, black sparkly costumes and smiles.

A short list of what Canada’s favourite dancers on ice have been through since they started skating together in London, Ont., when she was seven and he was nine: Three world championship wins. Two Olympic gold medals, a first in Vancouver and a second last week in the team event. Two Olympic silver medals four years ago.

And, most recently, a world record in Monday’s short dance that puts Virtue and Moir atop the field heading into Tuesday’s free program. They’re right where they want to be, in prime position to reclaim that Olympic title with one skate to go.

“It’s been a fun ride to be together and you know, you’re right, we don’t have to fake the feeling of looking into each other’s eyes and feeling something,” Moir said. He added that they’re most proud of what he calls their “business relationship.”

“That’s a joy, that’s been a joy our whole career,” he said, of their connection. “That’s something that we’ll need to execute tomorrow.”

Virtue and Moir were outstanding on Monday, in their routine to Sympathy for the Devil, Hotel California and Oye Como Va. Yes, Mick Jagger and the Eagles and Santana can sound great together, especially with these two Canadians jiving along.

There’s an incredible intensity and power and spot-on timing to their skates, to their twizzles. The program was also plenty steamy, beginning with Virtue running a finger in front of her face and down her body, and featuring the pair lovingly gazing into one another’s eyes as they cha-cha-cha’d.

“Really the whole premise of our short dance this year is transferring Latin ballroom dancing onto the ice,” Virtue said. “And the rumba is a very sensual, sexual dance—samba, cha, cha rhythms are very fun.

“It’s kind of an easy program to engage the audience, especially one as electric as this one. So we’re really trying to bring people in with us and hopefully have some fun.”

Well, they nailed it. Absolutely. These two are in the driver’s seat heading into the free program after posting a score of 83.67 to beat their old world record of 82.68, which they set last October.

After they helped Canada win team gold, Virtue and Moir spent time training in Seoul. “We knew right after both of our performances that we could do better,” Moir said, of their two skates in the team event. They felt they had more in the tank. And after their coaches watched tapes of their first two skates here over and over — Virtue and Moir rarely do themselves, because they don’t like to watch their own skates (and they might be the only Canadians on earth in that camp) — they made some adjustments.

“As well as that sensual, sexual feeling in a short dance, what you do have is a ton of athleticism,” Moir said. “We were really trying to drive the power and speed more today. We knew we’d need that against the French.”

The French duo of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron — who also happen to be their training partners in Montreal, with whom they also share their coaches—are in second, with a score of 81.93. The pair walked past Virtue and Moir as they were speaking to media, and the four skaters congratulated one another.

Papadakis had a wardrobe malfunction during their short program, when her dress came loose early in their skate and then on the final dip, became so loose that she revealed a nipple. In a news conference, she called it “my worst nightmare,” yet she gutsily continued to skate, because stopping would have resulted in a five-point deduction.

Certainly the costume trouble distracted the French pair, who are two-time world champions and reigning silver medallists. You have to figure that any trouble with Papadakis’ costume will be fixed by Tuesday morning’s free skate, though.

The wardrobe malfunction aside, this competition is so far shaping up as it should: A showdown between these top two teams, these friends and training partners and rivals.

“This is exactly what we expected,” Moir said, of the result so far. “We expected it to be close going into the free and we know that we have to have our skate and that’s the way we want it. That’s what we signed up for.”

When that world record score popped up on the screen, Moir smacked his thigh and yelled “Yes!” and he hugged Virtue. He was feeling happy, yes, but also relieved. This duo retired for two years after the Sochi Olympics, then returned with the goal of nailing it here.

“It’s something to go out on that stage for us with that amount of pressure,” Moir said. “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. Every time is different. I felt probably more nervous today, probably in the top three of my career. And to go out there and to connect with each other and to be able to perform and execute is really why we came back.”

Virtue said they’d celebrate their world record “for maybe 15 more minutes,” and then refocus on Tuesday’s skate, that chance to end their careers with another Olympic title. They’re already the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history. It’s a chance to add yet another gold medal to the collection.

There’s a danger of over-thinking, of trying too hard, they know.

“Absolutely,” Moir said.

“We know that we have to stay present, we know that technically we have to execute,” Virtue added. “We can’t try and create magic, we can’t try and create a moment. It just has to happen.”

For a pair of skaters who’ve been training together for two decades, you have to bet that it will.

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