By GRANT ROBERTSON
Friday, February 9, 2018
PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA -- Heading into the last Olympics, Canada's figure skaters didn't know what to expect from the newly created team event. It was uncharted territory - a competition designed to reward countries for the depth of their talent, instead of just dishing out medals for top individual performances.
But the expectations are much more precise this time around.
"We think that Canada can win," said Scott Moir after he and ice-dance partner Tessa Virtue completed a workout in preparation for the team competition, which kicks off on Friday.
"We think that Canada can bring home gold, and that would be a great start to the Games for us."
For Virtue and Moir, who came out of retirement after stepping away from skating following the 2014 Sochi Olympics, the team event gives them a legitimate shot at two gold medals, as they enter next week's ice-dance competition among the medal favourites.
It is also a chance to avenge the silver medal Canada had to settle for at the team event in Sochi - a competition that was clouded by allegations that judges were determined to hand the win to Russia on home ice.
Though Canada was confident four years ago, Moir figures they are the team to beat now: Their roster is rich with talent, including podium contender Kaetlyn Osmond, former world champion Patrick Chan and pairs skaters Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford.
"To be Canadian and know that we will probably be in the mix, and know that we'll be on a team with people like Patrick Chan and Meagan and Eric and Kaetlyn, we're pretty excited," Moir said.
Countries must choose their rosters carefully. Few delegations want top skaters performing both short and long programs in the team event, fearing they could risk injury or fatigue before their individual events a few days later.
The workload is usually spread across the depth chart.
But Virtue and Moir said they have no problem performing both programs in the team event.
With plans to retire after these Olympics, they're not saving themselves. "This is what we came back for," Moir said.
"Everything that we've done in the last two years has been for the Olympics ... If they let us skate 10 times, we would."
Although the two wouldn't say if they will skate both ice-dance programs in the team event - official rosters don't have to be announced until late in the week - their coach indicated they would indeed be pulling double duty.
"That's the plan," said MarieFrance Dubreuil, a former Canadian ice dancer who coaches Virtue and Moir with her husband, Patrice Lauzon.
"It's their last [Olympics], so they want to be on the ice as much as they can."
Until a few months ago, Virtue and Moir seemed invincible, racking up record scores and a world championship. But a loss to French rivals Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron at December's Grand Prix Final in Japan by less than three points has set the stage for a showdown in South Korea.
In response, Virtue and Moir came back to Canada and began dissecting their programs, looking for places where they might have inadvertently lost points.
They focused on the transitions between elements in order to make their routines more seamless.
"We went through every element and just thought, 'What could possibly be a reason for a judge not to give us [a top mark]' - and we wanted to eliminate any of those," Virtue said.
They've also altered a particular lift in their Moulin Rouge free dance in which Virtue rolls forward into Moir's arms and wraps her legs around his neck. Although acrobatic, the move didn't have quite the look they wanted for the Olympics, so they adjusted it slightly to give it what Virtue calls "more of a tango flair."
"We liked off the hop that it made a statement and it was different. And that was great for the start of the season and for the overall vision of the program. We hope that this new position fits a little better," Virtue said.
Moir said they're happy with the new direction. "When we slowed it down and looked on the video, it wasn't aesthetically that beautiful a position, so we wanted to change it and make it a little bit better."
They arrive in Pyeongchang in a similar situation to the one they faced four years ago, when they shared a coach with their main rivals for the gold medal.
In 2014, their former coach Marina Zueva was also guiding the eventual winners, Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States. At these Olympics, Dubreuil and Lauzon are also coaching top contenders Papadakis and Cizeron.
Asked to comment on the strengths of each pair, Dubreuil walked a fine line, meting out praise equally: Virtue and Moir are "fiery," with a flair for the dance elements, while the French pair have a particular "floating quality" on the ice.
Who will prevail in Pyeongchang is an open question. Virtue and Moir hope the changes to their programs will prevent another narrow upset.
"We have work to do in the next couple of weeks," Moir said. "We expect great things from ourselves."
Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will be Canada's flag-bearers in the opening ceremony of the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.