Figure Skating

The Canadian Press - Wednesday Oct. 16, 2013 19:30 ET

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir stronger than ever

Pair opted to stay home during off-season

Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir
Canadian figure skaters Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir decided to take it easy during the off-season and it appears to have paid off heading into the Winter Olympics in Sochi. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Scott Moir has managed to keep tabs on his favourite team while he and partner Tessa Virtue prepare what the Sochi Olympics and what will likely be their final season of competing.

Is the Toronto Maple Leafs' sparkling 6-1 start to the NHL campaign a good omen for Canada's Olympic ice dance champions?

"That's pretty good. But Tessa and I going for more of a 6-0 season this year; 6-1 is good by Leafs standard, but not for us," Moir said, laughing.

Indeed, Virtue and Moir couldn't have asked for a much better off-season of training. They took a pass on skating shows in Asia, and for once spent the summer training in Canton, Mich. The reward is they're perhaps in better shape and are better prepared than ever before.

And besides, there will be plenty of shows after Sochi.

"We've had mentors tell us in the past that you win the Olympics in the spring and summer the year before the Games and in our experience that certainly helps our cause, being ready early," Virtue said on a conference call Wednesday, to preview next week's Skate Canada International. "Last summer was a lot busier, we did more shows, took more time away from training, and this year we really simplified things and just set our plan and showed up at the rink every day to execute that plan."

Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., won the Finlandia Trophy earlier this month, easily topping the competition in what's a sort of warmup event to the Grand Prix season.

"We're ready a lot earlier, we weren't just competing in Finland, kind of throwing up a Hail Mary, and just hoping we're going to get to the end," Moir said. "Now we're competing with expectations, so every competition is a stepping stone to our Olympic goals."

Different approach from Vancouver Games

Four years ago, they were just keeping fingers crossed they'd get to the end. Virtue was in near constant pain from the compartment syndrome in both her legs — she later revealed it was a struggle just to walk to the cafeteria and back in the athletes village in Vancouver, where they went on to win gold.

"We're in a place now to contrast the 2010 preparations, where we're really healthy, we can train, we can put in those hard sessions, we have an entire couple of years of healthy training under our belts," Virtue said. "And that will be the difference confidence-wise when we take the ice in Sochi because we will have done it a thousand times at home, and we will know that it's in our bodies."

The fact they're in top form is helping them deal with the pressures that come with being defending champions. They referred to themselves as "kids" in Vancouver, but as someone pointed out recently to Moir, they're "old and experienced" now.

"We're like, wait, what? We'd like to be the kids again," Moir said. "It is a different experience going into these Games, but a lot of the things will be the same. Tessa and I right now, we're going to bed and waking up thinking about the Olympic Games and thinking about how to capture and take advantage of that moment, so we talk about it very often, and one thing we've talked about is how right on we were with our approach in Vancouver.

"When we took the ice, we said to each other, we're going to leave everything out there on the ice and we're going to go out there and enjoy the experience of being in an Olympic Games, and I think we'll be looking to do that in a similar fashion in Russia."

While people think "experience is a wonderful thing," Virtue said, sometimes it isn't.

"Sometimes it simply adds more stress, because you do know the scope of things, the magnitude of what winning an Olympics means," she said. "I think we don't have that naivete working in our favour heading into Sochi."

Room to improve

Despite a near 25-point gap over the field two weeks ago in Finland, Virtue and Moir weren't thrilled with their performance. Moir said he made very "October-like" mistakes. He didn't hold the spin long enough, and went over the allowable time on a lift.

"It is discouraging a little bit to look up at the board and see that we're about 30 points behind our points goal for a competition," Moir said. "But then when we look at the breakdown and we look at the replays and we've kind of done our homework, they're easy fixes, they're very black and white and Tessa and I came away thinking very positively that we can make those changes and that they're in our hands, and we have to be the ones to take those points back."

The 24-year-old Virtue, and Moir, 26, will skate their new programs in front of a Canadian audience for the first time at Skate Canada in Saint John, N.B.

Their long program — to "The Seasons" by Alexander Glazunov — is a marked departure from last year's steamy dramatic "Carmen" program, more classical with cleaner lines, and more reminiscent of their Gustav Mahler free dance that won them gold in Vancouver.

"The Seasons program that really is part of our souls, it tells the story of our relationship of Tessa and Scott and it's a lot of fun for our longtime fans and hopefully for our new fans," Moir said. "The ending is more powerful, it's not like a Mahler where you're left breathless. We're going to come in the very end with some very powerful skating. We're more mature skaters now and we need to show some of that strength."

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