Retired Canadians Virtue and Moir leave ice dancing in a better place

TORONTO — Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir knew they were taking a huge risk when they came out of a two-year retirement, setting their lofty sights on a gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. Almost no one was happy with the news. Not their families. Not fellow skaters. Not friends, nor their national federation.

But the duo couldn’t have penned a better comeback. They won gold in Pyeongchang in unprecedented fashion, becoming the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history, and taking Canada along for the ride.

And when they announced their retirement via a selfie video late Tuesday night — finally confirming what the skating world had assumed — it seemed nobody was ready to let them go.

Virtue and Moir were trending on Twitter on Wednesday after their on-ice video announcement. Sad GIFs and crying emogies flooded social media.

“It just feels like the right time to say goodbye while we’re still loving and enjoying the sport as much as we always have,” Moir said.

Their announcement comes ahead of their Rock the Rink Tour, which opens Oct. 5 in Abbotsford, B.C., and ends Nov. 16 in Moncton, N.B.

Virtue and Moir haven’t competed since Pyeongchang, where they melted hearts with their breathtaking “Moulin Rouge” program, the Hollywood ending to a story 22 years in the making.

The ice dancers weren’t available on Wednesday as they were travelling. They chose an ice rink for their announcement because it was “home.”

“We’ve spent 22 years coasting around the outside of the rink, hanging out together, making programs, trying to just soak up our sporting experience,” Moir said in the video. “And after 22 years it feels like the right time to step away from the sport… How lucky are we really that we’ve gotten to share all of this together and with all of you?”

Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., won gold at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with their skate to Mahler’s silvery “Fifth Symphony.” Behind the scenes, Virtue was battling leg pain caused by compartment syndrome that was so severe that it was difficult to walk from her room in the athletes’ village to the cafeteria.

Four years later, they were second behind American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White in Sochi. The result didn’t sit well. And so after taking two years off, they announced their return, and were unabashed in claiming nothing less than gold would be good enough.

“No one was happy (about our comeback)… everyone was surprised, because it was such a risk,” Virtue said in an interview last year. ”Maybe because we believed in ourselves and believed in what we could pursue, we felt there was so much more to do.”

They were right. Beyond the Olympic medals and world records, the Canadians took ice dancing to a new level.

“They were always finding ways to push the limits with dance, be it technically, be it artistically, they explored so many different genres that they didn’t kind of have one style and skate for their (entire) career,” said Skate Canada’s high performance director Mike Slipchuk. “Every year they came out with something new. They did classical, they did movies, they did Pink Floyd, they did Gene Kelly, they’ve done it all.

“That’s what always made them unique is they always came out with something new and innovative and it pushed more teams to explore outside the box also, which is what we see now.”

Their Pyeongchang performance — Virtue channelling her inner Nicole Kidman in a skin-tight red dress, and Moir playing a love-struck Ewan McGregor — made ice dancing a must-see event. In one of the biggest stories of the Games, they garnered a new generation of fans. Six of the top-10 Twitter trends in Canada in the hours after their skate were about the ice dancers.

They further cemented their spot as the country’s favourite “couple” two nights later when Moir, in a Canadian tuque and with beer in hand, was spotted on television hollering at the referees during the Canadian women’s heartbreaking hockey loss to the United States.

“It’s like anything at an Olympics, it’s really hard to grasp the impact back home until you actually get back home,” Slipchuk said. “It was one of those that anyone you talked to saw it. And it was the middle of the night here, right? It was after midnight that they were competing … what they accomplished and the effect back home, it’s hard to explain, it’s just massive, it really pushed skating even more into the limelight, which is always a good thing for us.”

Does Canada have another Virtue and Moir on the rise? It’s tough to say. Skaters develop at different rates. Virtue and Moir were fifth at the 2007 world championships. Canadians Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, who coached Virtue and Moir in their comeback, won silver. Virtue and Moir vaulted to second in the world the next season, and remained at the top for the next decade.

Marjorie Lajoie and Zachary Lagha won the world junior ice dance title last season, Canada’s first in the discipline since Virtue and Moir captured gold as juniors.

“So it will be interesting to see where their paths take them,” Slipchuk said.

While many Olympic athletes struggle to cash in on their athletic success post-Games, the 30-year-old Virtue and Moir, 32, haven’t had much trouble.

The two have made countless television appearances, including “The Ellen DeGeneres Show” and “Mr. D.” Virtue, who has sponsorship deals with Nivea, Adidas and MAC cosmetics among others, can be seen on billboards and bus shelters around Toronto.

Their cross-country Rock the Rink Tour is virtually guaranteed to be a huge hit. It could be the last time the two perform together.

“We can’t wait to go coast-to-coast and celebrate this with all of you,” Virtue said in their video announcement. “Thank you so much for your unwavering support. It truly has meant the world to us, and we’re in such good hands in Canada. The next generation is going to blaze new trails, break all of our records, and we can’t wait to be there to cheer them on every step of the way.”

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