Okay, folks. Listen up.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have no intention of finishing second at the Pyeongchang Olympics, although they finished second at the Grand Prix Final last month.
They are not in this race for silver, for second-best, for forgotten footnote. Anybody remember who Sham was? The horse that finished second to Secretariat. Secretariat we know. Sham had to live down his name.
Virtue and Moir haven’t taken their defeat at Grand Prix Final as a result of any nefarious working behind the scenes, as some suggest and fear. They took a look at themselves and knew they could do better.
They weren’t taken aback by the results at Grand Prix Final. Mind you, finishing second wasn’t what they had in mind. Last season they had owned almost all the season’s bests, while this season so far, they still have only the short dance world record of 82.68. The French and the Canadians circled around each other all year in competitions, meeting for the first time at the Grand Prix Final.
Papadakis and Cizeron became the first to best the 200 total mark when they unleashed a world record 201.98 points at the Grand Prix in France, and then again at the Grand Prix Final when they recorded 202.16.
Virtue and Moir finished second at the Grand Prix Final with 199.86, their personal best, only 2.30 points behind the French and almost 12 points ahead of third-placed Maia and Alex Shibutani.
Those 2.30 lost points weren’t happy ones for Virtue and Moir. So they came home and watched their own performances on tape. “We spent a lot of time in this sport,” Moir said. “We know what we want our performances to look like. And when we looked at the Grand Prix Final, we were super happy with our skate. But we know there is more on the table for us to do. So it has been a busy month, trying to live up to what we want our look and performance to look like.”
So, as Moir said, they went back to the drawing board. They have made a lot of changes, especially in their free dance. “We’re just trying to open the programs up,” Moir said. “Hopefully we’ve been successful…We just want a bit more command and I think we’re enjoying it more. We always talk about how we enjoy skating and we felt like we were enjoying it. But when we watched the tape, it didn’t really look like it.”
Virtue said they made a few music edits to the second half of their Moulin Rouge free dance (“Come What May”), trying to emphasize more of their twosomeness and a love story “culminating in a bigger, more theatrical ending.” Indeed, it’s more Olympic.
“That’s been refreshing for us,” Virtue said. “Especially at this point in the season, having trained and performed this program so many times. It’s so engrained in our bodies and we are so committed to the story line and we love it. But bringing in some fresh movement sort of feels like the program has been reborn.”
There were parts where they just “felt suffocated in the movements,” and that is what they saw on the video. “So we are trying to open it up and keep it close to our hearts,” Moir said.
They’ve learned from the Sochi Olympic season, when their free dance didn’t quite pull at their hearts. They wanted to make changes to it, but they didn’t have the nerve to do so in the middle of that season. Not this time. “Here, we’re really trying to challenge ourselves so that when we really do look back on the tape, we’re not regretting that,” he said.
Their coaching staff responded to the call for change. Moir said they wanted to pick the program apart and they did, a bit, but mostly, they wanted to open up the flow and feel. “Hopefully you’ll see that freedom,” Moir said. “We feel it, so hopefully that translates.”
Nationals next week will present a good test for all these changes. Their entire plan is to peak in February. The national championship will be a stepping stone. “But we also need to make a statement, especially after the Grand Prix Final,” Virtue said. “We need to come out strong, with our guns blazing, ready to take on the world in February.”
It’s hard for them to know. They are all so close to it. When they peruse the video, they are gleaning technical bits, trying to maximize points here and there. “It’s rare that we would ever watch something and be satisfied,” Virtue said.
They are pleased with where this has all gone.
Their Moulin Rouge is a different sort of cat. When they began to work on the piece last summer, they wanted “a sleek modern contemporary aesthetic” for it. And it brings a lot of possibilities for them.
“It’s so emotional and layered and nuanced that you feel the spectrum of emotions,” Virtue said. It’s completely different from the subtleties and understated elegance of Beethoven’s “Moonlight Sonata” that the French have adopted for this season. Moulin Rouge calls for aggression, and passion and anger and jealousy and love.
“We’re trying to tell that a little more physically than anything,” she said. They incorporate the tango movements while also doing the unexpected. They think of what the normal approach to a specific beat is or a melody and try to go in a different direction.
“We know that we want to get that extra lyrical feeling in the second half of the program,” Virtue said. “We wanted to make sure that when we took the ice for our third Olympics, we weren’t the same team. It [would be] a different Tessa and Scott, moving differently, expressing differently, skating differently and that’s what we continue to strive for.”
They know it’s inescapable for people to make comparisons between them and the French. It’s a battle between the two training mates. People try to label them. They seem to need to. If there is a label, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron tend to adopt the soft, lyrical long-lined approach. Virtue and Moir go all over the map to different styles and genres for their inspiration.
“I think there’s something about wanting to label a style and compare and contrast,” Virtue said. “It’s no surprise that people want to identify what it is we do, and compare that directly to the French team. We love what they do. It is soft and lyrical and intricately woven and there’s a contemporary look to it.
“I think what we’ve chosen to do this year is perhaps more dramatic and intense, but it was more just to change our own personal look. We wanted to have a departure for ourselves as a team, and that was really important to us, not taking into account where Gabby and Guillaume were taking their free dance this year.”
Partly, it comes down to music selection. “How can you not respond aggressively to a piece of music like Roxanne?” Virtue said.
As the program evolves – and their programs always do throughout the season – Virtue and Moir feel they are right on track.