Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir on the comeback: 'Our whole theory is to enjoy ourselves'

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada skate Ice Dance long program at the Autumn Classic International skating competition in Montreal October 1, 2016. REUTERS/Christinne Muschi (REUTERS)

Yes, they are back. And after being away from the competitive scene for the past two seasons, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir – the 2010 Olympic ice dancing champions – have a glow about them now. They look happy, and already they’ve thrown down top scores in the world at the Autumn Classic International, an early-season competition in Montreal over weekend.

A 77.72 score in the short program eclipsed their previous best. That came with the knowledge they are rusty, not having done twizzles (travelling spins) for two years and a few other skills as well. No surprise there - it was their first competition in 945 days.

Although the Grand Prix season is yet to come and some top dancers haven’t registered scores yet, Virtue and Moir have already achieved higher scores this season than Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy, who won a world title in their absence. Virtue and Moir’s short dance score was the second highest in history. Their free dance score (111.48) was short of their best and of the world record (118.17) but their total score of 189.20 was second highest in history, five points behind the record.

In the past couple of years, Virtue and Moir have watched the level of ice dancing markedly improve. “Turns are much more precise,” Moir said. “Judges don’t give out levels [of difficulty] very easily. It’s a big step for us to get some big levels here. But we’re going to have to be a lot stronger.”

In recent weeks, they’ve been focusing on technique and were pleased to earn the highest levels of difficulty on all but one element during the Autumn Classic.

The biggest change for Virtue and Moir, though, is their new training site in Montreal under the tutelage of previous Canadian stars Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who also train world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France. Virtue and Moir were youngsters when Dubreuil and Lauzon competed on the world scene.

Virtue said her best moment at the Autumn Classic was skating away from the boards, knowing  the former Canadian champions were there. “It’s really special,” she said. “It’s something I’ve dreamed about the last couple of years, just imagining what that feeling would be. And it’s even better than I anticipated.”

“We can’t figure out why they like us,” Moir quipped. “They’ve always looked out for us. They had no reason to. They don’t realize what they did for us in our career coming up.”

Dubreuil and Lauzon also mentored them during the Stars On Ice tour. “We couldn’t have done it without them,” Moir said. “They taught us so many lessons.”

“They are so altruistic,” Virtue said. “You don’t meet people like that very often.”

Virtue and Moir want to pass on what Dubreuil and Lauzon are giving them by imparting a “relaxed energy” to younger athletes. “Our whole theory is to enjoy ourselves,” Moir said. “We’ve been on the other side [show skating.] We have what we think is a pretty clear perspective on the sport.”

They feel a better sense of balance. And it’s working. “We were a little bit shocked when we got into the [short dance] program and looked at each other and it was clicking,” Virtue said. They joked around before they skated. Moir admitted he was anxious to start. They lost their focus a little. They realized it.

The atmosphere in their training rink is “supportive and friendly and genuine,” Virtue said. “It’s such a pleasure to be on the ice with all these teams every day. That’s part of the reason we are having so much fun. It’s a testament to our coaching staff, and that energy and environment that they create.”

Even though they are training alongside perhaps their toughest competitors Papadakis and Cizeron, the atmosphere doesn’t allow for negativity and is far from hostile. Papadakis, who was in Japan last week, sent Virtue a text before they skated, wishing them well -- all part and parcel of the lightness about Virtue and Moir now. It should serve them well.