Kaetlyn Osmond and the dark side of a swan.

No, Kaetlyn Osmond does not have an evil twin. But she can pretend.

And when she does, as she does in her free program to the movie “Black Swan,” this season, she is convincing and powerful, a potent force on the ice.

It does no good to watch her do this routine on Youtube. (But I’m including it for your viewing pleasure. Best I can do. Black magic is not my thing.) Seeing Osmond skate the program live is everything.

During practice at a secondary rink at the Pierrefonds ice complex in Montreal during Autumn Classic last week, Osmond swept powerfully around an end curve and hurtled diagonally across the ice, to a crescendo of music. And it was deadly emphatic. Don’t mess with this Kaetlyn Osmond. Better to duck into the opposite corner and holler: “Uncle.” She’ll take your breath away, truly.

For one thing, she is perhaps one of the fastest female skaters in the world. Actually, Canada has three of the fastest  female singles skaters in the world, when you add in Gabby Daleman, the world bronze medalist, and Alaine Chartrand. Osmond, of course, is the world silver medalist, who finished behind only Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia, who won another Challenger event last week, the Ondrej Nepela Trophy in Bratislava.

So wildly different are the routines of the world’s top two female skaters. Sorry to say, but Medvedeva’s new routines look like carbon copies of the ones from last year. It’s the fragile, big eye, dealing-with-death look.  The music titles might be different, the look is not. At the end of her short program, Medvedeva takes her last breath, apparently depicting a soul rising from the body to look back down on it, before death. (Oh my.) But resurrects herself for the long, skating to the lovely Joshua Bell, he of “The Red Violin” fame, playing on his own 1713 Huberman Stradivarius violin. And that violin of his can make you weep.

Osmond finished 15.28 points behind Medvedeva at the world championships in Helsinki last March and earned 218.13. On Saturday in Montreal, Osmond earned close to her personal best: 217.55, after doing seven triples in the free for the first time. All this in spite of the fact that she singled an Axel and took a  belly flop in front of the judges. “It was my favourite part of the program,” she said later, emerging with a big bandage and some ice on her left knee. “I didn’t get to show that much, but it also made me calm down. I might have been getting a little too excited. It was a skid stop. And I stopped.” And she landed a triple loop afterwards, and sailed on, in control.

Across the Atlantic, Medvedeva earned 226.72 points, although it’s folly to compare separate competitions. Medvedeva’s scores in Bratislava were all slightly higher than Osmond’s were in Montreal.

Medvedeva owns all the world records that are possible: short program (80.85), free skate (160.46) and combined score (241.31.) Some have already anointed her the Olympic champion next February.

Not so fast. Experience has shown that Olympics are a different animal. And so much can happen in a year. So much can happen in a day. Witness Yuzuru Hanyu electrifying the world in his short program in Montreal, then the next day, falling apart, finishing fifth in the free, and wistfully watching his gold medal go to training partner Javier Fernandez. Even Canadian upstart Keegan Messing defeated Hanyu in the free skate.

Osmond’s dramatic theme, as tragic as it can be if you think of the ballet “Swan Lake” or its wickedly dark offshoot movie “Black Swan,” released in 2010, goes a different direction, too. She’ll bring us the positive, hopeful lessons learned in “Black Swan.”

We won’t need to throw ourselves in the river in despair after watching it. But what a ride is “Black Swan” – the movie and Osmond’s free skate.

Osmond has always wanted to skate to “Swan Lake,” and never had the chance. “It’s one of my favourite pieces of music when I was younger,” she said. “But when the movie “Black Swan” came out, I liked the darker side of it. I was much more dramatic. That’s what I find I can speak to more on the ice.”

She began to bring up “Black Swan” a few times in those early season meetings, but choreographer Jeff Buttle and coach Ravi Walia suggested “La Boheme” for last season. She tried to convince them otherwise. Walia and Buttle weren’t quite sure that Osmond was ready for “Black Swan.” So La Boheme it was, and it had the effect of softening up Osmond’s line. And it prepared her perfectly for this season.

This year, Buttle brought up “Black Swan” right away. “He asked me if I wanted to do “Black Swan” and I said: “Yes I do!” Osmond said.

Osmond’s big personality on the ice works the best when she plays strong characters. That’s why her Edith Piaf short program works so well. And the characters in “Black Swan” are definitely powerful. The movie gives a new twist to the ballet, depicting ballet dancers auditioning for the roles of the White Swan and the Black Swan in a New York production of “Swan Lake.”

“I love this because it is playing to two completely different characters in the same program,” she said. “I’ve seen a lot of people do Swan Lake and a lot of people do Black swan. I try to bring both of them together. But I’m definitely more the Black.”

The movie turns into a battle royale between the white and black swans (dancers) and eventually it becomes clear they are really the same person. “The White Swan is innocent and wanting to be perfect, but almost getting in her head too much,” Osmond said. “She can’t deliver that perfection and the Black Swan being free and slightly evil, can.” Eventually, the heroine finds out they you have to be both to deliver the perfection. In the end, she does the absolute best performance she can do.

The program Osmond delivered was not all she could do. After all, it’s only September and the Autumn Classic is a handy Challenger event, good for priming. “I still am not actually trying everything in it yet,” she said. “I didn’t do a three-jump combination today. And I’m still doing level 3 layback [spin.] Just so that I’m pacing out the program and not putting it all in at once.”

So there’s more to come. She doesn’t throw her arms up in the air like Medvedeva does for more points. She didn’t move a triple Lutz to the second half of her short program because it just didn’t fit the music there and that would have affected component marks. The programs have been worked into an artistic whole with a sophisticated theme.

Her “Black Swan” is challenging and difficult and takes a lot of stamina. She’ll do four run-throughs in a session. The routine relies a lot on balletic line and “having those lines in a program makes it harder,” she said.

Her biggest challenge is to keep the characters alive, totally. If she doesn’t, the program goes from incredible to average. “I don’t want it to be average,” she said.

It’s not a stretch to think the world of the ballet dancer shown in “Black Swan” can mirror the world of a figure skater going for an Olympic medal. The “Black Swan movie is essentially what skating is,” Osmond said. “You’re trying to battle what you think is perfect and skate the way you want. “

At age 22, she has learned so much.

 

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Muse 2.0 gets a bumpy debut

MONTREAL

It’s a shocking ride to go from a beautiful high to a stumbly low.

Two-time world pair champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are trying to figure it out, how and why they fell to a troubled third place in the free skate at Autumn Classic on a blistering hot Saturday in a cold rink.

Ouch.

It’s Olympic year. Ouch.

And they had performed as if they were in a dream in the short program, which they had won the previous day.

Duhamel says she’s confused at their performance, in which she fell on a triple Lutz, a triple Salchow, and a throw quad Salchow and just to add misery to the load, they slipped quite out of synch on a side by side spin.

Think of the energy it took Duhamel to pick herself up three times, and catch up to her taller partner.

”I feel like the times we’ve had to perform it in the last month, it’s all felt so difficult,” Duhamel said. “Whereas the short has just felt as light as air and super easy.”

Radford said they’ve been having troubles trying to translate stellar training efforts of their free skate to Muse into competition success. “In the last little bit, we’ve done five run-throughs and to be honest they’ve all been like this,” he said. “ Just lots of misses. And lots of bizarre misses.

“If you see us practice, you never really see us do stuff like that.”

They are puzzled, both of them. “We need to go back and make some changes so we can access it,” Radford said.

If they were to mess up once in a while, no big deal. But nightmares keep happening.

They shown the program in front of judges three times, once at a training camp, once in front of judge monitors and here. Each time, with somebody watching, and they’ve put the program all together in once piece, everything goes pear-shaped.

“Things just go so haywire,” Radford said.

Musing, Radford said: “Good thing it happened here and not during the season. We’ve got time to figure things out. We’ll give it another go at Skate Canada.”

Another thing: Radford says they always learn so much when things don’t go well. “We have a lot of experience to draw on in that regard,” he said.

No, they don’t feel like all is lost or that it’s all over. This performance was only the beginning. They have work to do. They take comfort in the thought that during the 2010 Olympic year, German team Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, fell afoul of their long program too, changed it mid-season from the dirge You’ll Never Walk Alone to Out of Africa, which earned them a bronze medal.

The idea of changing their routine came up in conversation very quickly (“At this point, we’re open to anything,” Radford said.). But then again, he thinks it’s too soon to jump to that conclusion. “I think we need to give it more time to develop,” he said. Maybe they need to change their layout patterns, maybe even choreography. Maybe they just need to revisit their strategy, he said.

They’ve had nothing but good memories of their Muse routine that they used for their first world title in 2014-2015.

Interestingly enough, they feel that their successful short program has a much slower pace. They have discovered a smoother style. Their lines also match better.

And when they did Muse for the first time “we were younger,” Radford said. They are different skaters now.

Perhaps they were trying to take the feeling of the short and relate it to the long. Perhaps the two just don’t mix, like oil and water. Radford seemed to be thinking out loud.

The fall on the triple Lutz was just a freaky thing. They had changed their entrance into the jump, putting it straight at an end, rather than in a corner. “It’s very uncharacteristic of us. Even if we do a very bad one, it’s never like that.”

Little miscues just piled up. Radford said he missed a little step going into the twist. “Like a brain fart,” he said.

“But then little things start to change. And when we’re not completely comfortable patterns, you just get a little tight and things start to get a little further away from you.”

It’s a mystery and a puzzle. And it’s time for some soul searching. They’ve done it before. They’ll do it again.

 

 

Javi Fernandez: the charming world champion

MONTREAL

Even while his world is changing all around him, swallowing him, passing him by perhaps, Javier Fernandez is stepping out this year with an I-am-who-I-am elegance.

And it’s refreshing.

He’s not the same skater he was when he showed up on Brian Orser’s doorstep six years ago as a laid-back Spaniard with loads of charm. That’s when he was a quad guy, so innately gifted that his jump prowess prompted Yuzuru Hanyu to come to Canada to skate with Orser, too. Hanyu wanted to learn from Fernandez. At the time Hanyu had one quad. He has learned, in spades.

But in the meantime, Fernandez has became much, much more than a jumper, drafted into the stroking-footwork-skating programs of Orser and co-host Tracy Wilson, whose ice dancing skills have transformed many a skater into well, a real skater. Watch Javi’s footwork. It’s a treat.

“I think this season is going to change a lot figure skating,” he said, after finishing second to Yuzuru Hanyu with a big score of 101.20, still about 11 ½ points behind the Japanese star.

If left to current devices, Fernandez sees skaters of the future loading up their programs with quads galore, but what else? He thinks things need to be reined in a bit.

“A lot of things are going to be fixed,” he said optimistically. “A lot of things are going to change. I think the younger boys are pushing into a different way, and something is going to go after this year.”

Of course, he’s speaking about a push to limit the points allotted to quads at the International Skating Union congress that takes place after an Olympic season in the wake of young skaters like Nathan Chen, Boyang Jin, Hanyu, Shoma Uno and Vincent Zhou loading up with four-rotation jumps.

“I think if skating doesn’t stop the quads, it’s going to be everything quads,” Fernandez said. “And what about the person who do only one quad and have the best skating in the world? He’s not going to have a chance… So my point is, if we don’t stop the quantity of quads that we do in the free program, then we are going to lose a lot of figure skating. “

He’d rather a world championship become a battle of who is the best all-around skater, the best spinner, the best footwork artist, rather than “the person that does seven quads.”

He does not know if the change he’d like to see will happen. “We will see,” he said.

Yes, Fernandez has not only worked on footwork, but he’s also paid special attention to spins. And you could see the improvement in his short program to Charlie Chaplin.

Fernandez said he’d had the same spins for the past three years, but he wanted a change. If everybody has the same spins, your spins won’t be a wow, he reasons. The answer: different spin positions. He felt it important to update his spins in a season that means a lot to him.

He doesn’t know if he’s going to continue competing after this Olympic season. He said he wants to show people his best skate, in case it’s his last.

So the spin positions, thanks to help from Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club spin coach, Paige Astrop, (Brian Orser calls her the spin doctor), he’s found spin positions that match the music. That’s a rare treat, actually. He’ll do a spin that looks like a bird with a broken wing. He’ll do a spin that jumps a bit for joy.

It’s all possible because although Fernandez has done a Charlie Chaplan program before, this short program version is very different and far more sophisticated than the usual fare with mustache and cane and turned out shoes.

.”It’s not easy to find positions that fit the program 100 per cent,” he said. “And also something that not everybody is using. But we actually did find some and they don’t bother the spin much.”

The Charlie Chaplin that Fernandez did in the past suited his personality: charming, happy, romantic. “He was always in love,” Fernandez said.

“This one is in the beginning more dramatic. It’s like, what is going on? This is not Charlie Chaplin! This is a different idea of Charlie. That’s what we were looking for. It has a little Charlie touch. We wanted to give Charlie Chaplin a second chance. “

His free program is to “Man of La Mancha,” ending with “The Impossible Dream.” It almost sounds like a farewell and it’s magnificent. It’s perhaps the story of his life.

Fernandez’s effort in the short program also left Orser speechless. Fernandez isn’t used to competing this early in the season, and he’s still looking for the pacing and rhythm of his routines. It’s easy at home. Not so easy at a competition. “It was his first pancake,” Orser said.

Fernandez told Wilson he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to smile. Said the sage Wilson: “You can never lose, Javi, by smiling.”

His marks were remarkable, Orser said. He did only a quad-double, when he intends quad-triple. He got all level fours. Although Fernandez was about 10 points behind Hanyu in technical bits, he was close on his heels in components: only two points back at 46.55.

And choreographing elements like spins? “You don’t see that very often,” Orser said. “You don’t see a lot of creativity. Yuzu is extremely creative and Javi’s going that way. When we get to the stage where we’re starting to choreograph spins, we’re in a good place, rather than just teaching them to count [rotations].”

Should Fernandez step aside after this year, it will leave a very large empty space. He’s a beloved two-time world champion. And he’s revolutionized skating in Spain. He has rained on a dry spot. And he’s done it with charm and integrity.

 

 

 

Duhamel and Radford finding their feet

MONTREAL

It was a moment. Perhaps the moment of the night. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford had just finished their short program at Autumn Classic. They sat on the ice, facing each other, triumphant, just looking in each others eyes, seemingly speechless.

“Thank you,” they said to each other.

In the kiss and cry that followed, words didn’t tell the story. Faces did. Coach Bruno Marcotte took one deep exhale, and you knew he had been affected by what he had seen, too.

This, after a troubled season beset by injury, early scrambles and a seventh-place finish at worlds. Radford referred to it as a “tumultuous” season.

“Like there were seriously days…..” he said.

“I know there are a lot of people who questioned if we could do it again and we questioned it too,” said Duhamel, who had won the two previous world titles with Radford. “It has to reach the level we were once at. And we have those moments in training where we’d feel: ‘Wow, we’re better than we ever thought we could be.’ But it was only us and our coaches that would see those moments.

“I just feel like we are back.”

The Canadian titlists scored 77.14, so close to their personal best of 78.39, to win the short program on Friday. Ask Duhamel and she thinks of a raft of ways they could improve, so it bodes well. They won by almost four points over exciting French team Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres.

What a crowd saw on Friday was exactly how they had been training. “I think that we’re just really happy to have the training translate to the competition,” Radford said. “For the last month, we’ve been training so well. So well, I’d think we should be going to the Olympics right now. “

But up to now, it would have been different if they did a run-through in front of somebody, like a judge. Things would fall apart. “We have to figure out why that happens,” Radford said.

“For this to come together, this is a good step. It gives us confidence. It lets us know this is what we’re capable of each time we go out.”

It was easy to see that the performance to “With You, Without You” was emotional and meaningful. “When it got to the footwork sequence, I think we just felt both right where we wanted to be,” Radford said “Right where we always knew we were supposed to be. Sometimes we can’t always get there. This is what we want to feel like all the time.”

Why so different this season? Radford says it’s like one of those days when you wake up and you just feel good. For an extended amount of time. “At the beginning of last season, things started not working,” he said. “We started getting frustrated and then things kept on not working and we got more frustrated.”

Duhamel admitted they had programs last year that didn’t make them feel comfortable. They never started their short program last year feeling settled.

“We had this dance lift at the beginning of our short program [Seal],” she said. “We used to be so nervous for it and it wasn’t even a technical element. So to start with that tension is never fun. We just assumed throughout the season, it would have gone away. It never did. “

From the first time they did this new short program, they felt settled. Everything feels within their reach. Last year, they felt out of reach of what they needed to do.
“It feels like we’re on the right track,” Radford said.

Besides, choreographer Julie Marcotte gave them an important piece of advice: “Skate stupid,” she said.

“She said we needed to stop being so hypersensitive about everything,” Duhamel said. “It’s the exact advice we need at times.”

They know their competitive careers are coming to a close. They know they will not have many more opportunities to compete, and to compete at home. They are savouring these moments. The crowd screamed wildly when Duhamel and Radford landed triple Lutzes –the jump that Radford found so impossible at the world championships when he was suffering from herniated disc.

“It’s the last time we are doing this competition,” Radford said. “So we might as well enjoy the moment.”

 

 

 

 

Yuzuru Hanyu, the maestro

MONTREAL

At Autumn Classic International on Friday, Japanese star Yuzuru Hanyu took a step beyond – in his first appearance of the Olympic season no less.

Returning to an old Chopin routine he had done during the 2015-2016 season, Hanyu, still only 22, so young and so old at the same time, became a maestro.

With every flying movement of an arm or a hand, he was in total control of a packed audience that was, mind you, dominantly Japanese, but it didn’t really matter. Everybody who was there felt it, saw it, bowed to it.

Honestly, he looked like a conductor and the orchestra was the audience. He pulled their strings and their hearts at the same time.

Hanyu did the most beautiful short program – choreographed and rechoreographed by Jeff Buttle – in the most breathtaking way, setting a world record of 112.72 points, even though he decided to leave his quad loop at home this time.

So, inscrutable Yuzuru, how can we possibly describe thee? He skated with patience that comes with confidence. He let fly a quad Salchow, landed with such soft knees, you couldn’t hear it. Judges loaded that thing up with GOE of +3, all across. Same thing with a triple Axel coming out of footwork. (He loves the triple Axel.)

And that quad toe loop – triple toe loop, done with both arms above his head (that’s new) Honestly. When he came down from the heavens on that one, his arms floated down by his sides, such a simple move, so effective. The crowd roared. And oh god, the footwork. And the spins, one of them a sit spin in which his arm and hand constantly floated, turned, and wrote “War and Peace” in a gesture.

His coach, Brian Orser, was speechless in the minutes afterward.

“For this time of year…..” he said. “There is a patience to this program that is comforting to everybody when you are watching it. It doesn’t feel awkward. You can hear a pin drop. You know when the next movement is going to happen. There is a little bit of anticipation for it. It’s really nice to be in that kind of comfort. “

Hanyu left out his quad loop – he became the first to land one in competition last season – because “he was just feeling a little bit of pain in his [right] knee,” Orser said. “It wasn’t one particular thing that made him go ouch. It just started to gradually get a little achy.”

After a little discussion at home, Hanyu decided to drop the loop for the moment, instead of pushing it. If not, he could have developed a more serious problem with his knee that would have been difficult to correct all season. They were smart. They stopped the nag. Orser said by the time he competed the short program on Friday, he actually was in no pain.

Before he was to skate, Orser and co-coach Tracy Wilson advocated the quad Salchow instead. Just think, they told him, it will be easy.
As soon as Hanyu finished the program, he came to Orser and Wilson and grinned: “That was so easy!”

Imagine, doing an easier routine and setting a world record. “It’s all about quality,” Orser said. “It’s the quality of all the elements. It’s the quality of all the skating. It’s the quality of the elements.”

Orser calls Hanyu the best spinner in the world and his step sequence is “magical” when it’s a good night. And it was a very good night.

 

 

Osmond turns back to Piaf

For Kaetlyn Osmond in this very important Olympic year, what is old is new again.

Starting next week at Autumn Classic, the world silver medalist will be going back to her masterful Edith Piaf short program of last season, leaving behind the exquisite “Summertime” on which she has toiled all summer.

It’s hardly a panic move. It’s a carefully calculated weighing of feeling and confidence, of impact and drama.

When judge monitors saw her new “Summertime” short program at the national training camp in late August, they gave a ripple of thumbs up, loving its feeling, the mood Osmond created, the maturity of it all and the choreography (done by Lance Vipond, who also created her Edith Piaf routine). Osmond loved it, too.

At the end of last season, after Piaf’s “Sous Le Ciel de Paris” and “Milord” had given her so much sparkle, Osmond felt that she had had enough of it. After all, she’d been hearing the music 15 times a day. It was all getting a bit cloying. Back then, she was happy to see the end of it.

“At the end of last season, we actually considered keeping the Edith Piaf for a second season,” said long-time coach Ravi Walia. “It was successful and she was so comfortable with it.

“But we knew that if she kept it a second year, she would have become really bored with it. She would have had to train it for a whole other year. So she got a new program choreographed. And we decided that after the summer, we’d see how the new program was going and how it was developing. And we’d decide at the end of the summer which program we thought would be a better choice for the season.”

Two days after she returned from the national team camp, Osmond began to toy with the Piaf choreography. She pulled it up on her computer. She didn’t do a full run-through of it until last Thursday. And it was clear what the decision should be. Piaf was like a comfortable old sweater.

“It felt like the best kind of déjà vu, honestly,” she said. “The minute that I turned the music on and went to skate it, it just felt incredible. It brought back so many great memories from last year. I had forgotten how much fun I had doing that.”

Walia said that even though the “Summertime” routine was very good, the team wanted to make sure that Osmond goes to the Olympics with her strongest programs. “We agreed that the Piaf program is the best program she’s ever had,” Walia said. “Many people have said to us that it’s a masterpiece. It’s obvious that we wanted to go to the Olympics with our strongest program. And that was definitely the Edith Piaf program.”

Vipond helped to refresh the new Piaf with some minor changes, some to the step sequence. It won’t look quite the same as last year. And that’s because Osmond isn’t the same as she was last year. “Now when I see her do this program again, I’ve noticed that it’s a lot better,” Walia said. “She skates it way better than before. She’s a better skater, so the program is ever better than it was before.”

Kaetlyn as a juvenile skater in Newfoundland

 

Last summer, Walia and Osmond worked diligently on her skating skills. Her technical content is very similar to last year’s routines, but they’ve added more details and polish “so that every movement and every second that she is on the ice, she looks perfect,” Walia said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on that. We really tried to work on the technique of her jumps to make them more technically sound and more consistent.  And the other thing we’ve focused on is her endurance. She’s done a lot of both on-ice and off-ice to help with her stamina.” It will help her on those competitive days when adrenalin makes her give more than usual.

The stamina training will help her with the new Piaf, which is a much faster-paced program that the languid and breezy “Summertime.” “I learned that on the first day, doing it again,” Osmond said. The tempo is indeed more challenging. She’s getting used to it and has skated it cleanly.

“But the character is definitely a lot stronger than “Summertime” and for me this year, that is what I want to feel, knowing exactly what the character of a program is and be able to skate a program that I know I love,” Osmond said. “As much as I love “Summertime” – I honestly loved doing that all summer – I just honestly love this program more.”

So now it’s exciting in her mind. Walia believes that wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t had a long break from it.  “Now that she just came back to it, it’s feels fresh for her and I think that’s really important.  You can tell if a program is really stale.” It would begin to show up in her performances. But Walia believes she can grow even more in this reborn Piaf. “I think by the Grand Prix, it’s going to be really special,” Walia said.

Costume?  “We were debating if we would change the costume,” Osmond said. “Or change the colour or try to create a new design. But for me, the dress worked really well with program and I couldn’t imagine skating that program with a different dress on. So I’ll be keeping the dress.”

Osmond still can’t quite believe she won a world silver medal but it’s very real. It’s motivated her further. “Worlds was definitely a big confidence booster,” she said. “But last year, everything seemed to fall in place for me. And I was able to compete well at each competition. But there is still a consistency that I want to be able to accomplish. I’ve had a great sense of motivation since worlds. I think it helped me a lot through my summer training to motivate me each morning to get on the ice and focus and skate my absolute best each and every day.”

Walia says Osmond has always been a hard worker, but she’s now very driven for more success. “That’s not an added pressure,” Walia said. “The great thing when people have expectations of you, it’s because you are doing something well.”

 

Virtue and Moir: The show must go on

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir came back after a two-year sojourn last year because they wanted to skate. And they felt they had more to give.

“We felt like we could be better,” Moir said.

Youngsters

 

No doubt, an Olympic gold medal is on their minds. But it’s not all and it’s not enough.

There are so many days in which they smile the whole time. They wake up wanting to go to the rink. As they said a year ago, they didn’t come back to be who they were – which wasn’t bad, mind you: all those great edges; the intertwining of one movement which unfolds to the next; the novel lifts, new each year; the passion to express.

They spent last year revamping their technique and their style of skating, believe it or not: working on basics and mechanics, shifting the patterns in which their bodies moved. They spent time in the gym. They never fail to mention B2Ten, the group that gives them multi-faceted off-ice support, some of it rather scientific. Their goal was not necessarily to set the world afire last year as they set the groundwork for their second year back: this year.

But they did set the world afire in 2016-2017. They set two world records, for the short dance (82.43) and total score (198.62). And they were undefeated last season against the world’s best, the lone bobble to the exquisite French dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, who edged them in the free dance at the world championships, but not overall. Virtue and Moir admitted their free dance wasn’t their best skate.  “That kind of stung us a little bit,” Moir said. “And we were trained. We wanted to perform at the level we thought we should have.”

Even so, they are coming into this season with all sorts of momentum. There should be no surprise if they have taken their skills and their expressive work yet a step further. It’s what they do. It’s the fire that lights them from within. They will be better this year than last. And experience is on their side, too. Last year they had to learn to compete again. They passed that test with flying flags.

”We’re so grateful to have had last year to set us up, schedule-wise especially, just to optimize our training this season and solidify our choreography and give our off-ice team a bit of a chance to home in on our mechanics once again,” Virtue said. “Things have just been rolling along as planned. I think in an Olympic season, you have to be adaptable, but part of that is just giving ourselves a buffer in case anything comes up through the year. I feel like we’ve done that.”

Mostly, they are excited about their material. It’s not a secret that they are skating to Rolling Stones and the Eagles and a bit of Carlos Santana for their short dance and “Moulin Rouge” for the free dance. What is a secret is just what and how they are using the music.

They did say that the music from their “Moulin Rouge” is coming from the Oscar-winning movie version, starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor, a wonderfully dark, grandiose film that became the first musical in 10 years to be nominated for Best Picture back in 2001.

It took its producers two years to clear the rights for all of the music, since all but one song – “Come What May” – were covers of music from artists such as David Bowie (“Nature Boy”) and Elton John (“Your Song.”)

Virtue and Moir have always loved the movie and know that “Moulin Rouge” has been used time and again by international figure skaters (especially “El Tango de Roxanne” for ice dancers).

“But we try, as we always do, to put our own stamp on it, and make it unique,” Moir said. “Hopefully, it’s successful. We don’t want to give it exactly too much of where we drew things from. We want people to experience that for themselves,” Moir said.

Skaters have only a few minutes to tell a story, he added, and he doesn’t want to ruin the experience for spectators by revealing the specifics.

So will it be that riveting Roxanne tango, perfect for an ice dancer to pluck? Or the winsomely beautiful “Nature Boy,” by Bowie – perhaps the most beautiful song of the movie?  Or perhaps “Come What May,” the ultimate love song – which would play well with ice dancers.

The public won’t know until their first competition: next week at Autumn Classic in Montreal, where Virtue and Moir will go up against two-time world medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje and Canadian innovators Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier.

It’s not easy keeping secrets in this social media world. But Autumn Classic will represent an unveiling, before Virtue and Moir get serious at Skate Canada in Regina in October.

There is an excitement when they talk about their  “Moulin Rouge.” It was their idea. They presented it to coaches in Montreal.  There has always been a collaboration in choosing music with coaches and choreographers. “But this just felt like ours,” Virtue said.

“We are super proud of our 2017 programs for sure,” Moir said. “But the one thing we could have improved upon is picking something that we really connect with. We had a piece of music in 2014 that we couldn’t skate to, because people before us had made it special already.”

But “Moulin Rouge” is different. “It comes from within us,” Moir said. “Skating to it feels special. I don’t know what it will look like. It might be a complete mess. But I can tell you, we are having a blast doing it. And we feel we have a special connection to it.” It’s high theatre, for sure.

So “Moulin Rouge” has become their standard piece. “We just didn’t find anything that spoke to us and that we connected with like that,” Moir said. “And Marie [France Dubreuil ) and Patch [Patrice Lauzon] let us play with it a bit. And once they saw our passion and our connection to it, they started to come around a little bit more.”

When they began to create, things fell into place naturally. David Wilson came in to help, as well as their hip-hop man Sam Chouinard. “We give credit to our coaches to not only let us have the opportunity to do something, but also getting on board and making it more special than we could ever believe,” Moir said.

This season, Latin is the prescribed rhythm for the short dance – and it’s not new to Virtue and Moir who have been together two decades. In fact, they danced a fiery flamenco at the Vancouver Olympics enroute to a gold medal.  There will be nothing simple about this Latin piece.

“We want to do something a little bit different,” said Moir. Dubreuil designed the routine for them and it’s a mix of modern rock. “It’s a bit of a party,” Moir said. “But we love the material and we get a chance to dance. It’s what we love to do.”

It starts with “Sympathy for the Devil,” and moves on to “Hotel California,” but it’s a novel arrangement. “It’s kind of a neat way to do Latin differently,” Virtue said.

Behind it all is a lot of training. They know what it is like to win and to defend – and they know how hard it is to defend. They are very motivated. They don’t have to look for it. “We are just trying to control our emotions more than find motivation,” Moir said. “We think about it every day. That’s already started. It’s so funny how quick you’re going to be every night, dreaming about the Olympics. You can’t get away from it almost.”

The nice thing is that their Olympic record sets us them up nicely, said Virtue, speaking of winning the Vancouver Olympics and finishing second in the Sochi Olympics four years ago.

“I think we are the underdogs!” Moir said, jokingly.