Olympic gold medallist Tessa Virtue stands on her own two skates
On the eve of International Women's Day, Metro's Genna Buck sat down with the famed ice dancer to talk her future, her sport and defining herself outside of 'Tessa and Scott.'
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After taking home two golds from the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang with on-ice partner Scott Moir, Canadian ice dancer Tessa Virtue is one-half of the most decorated figure skating duo of all time.
But since we caught up with the 28-year-old on the eve of International Women’s Day, we thought it fitting to talk to her about herself, not being part of “Tessa and Scott” — although he did come up quite a bit.
Virtue was gearing up for her victory tour with Moir: a media blitz across the morning shows, a heroes’ welcome at a Toronto Maple Leafs game, plans in the works to update their 2011 book.
The two are getting mobbed for selfies and autographs everywhere they go, and slobbered over in the media — social and mainstream — by people who are quite open about their desire to smash their faces together and make them kiss.
“I’m still not sure that I have perspective on that,” Virtue said, adding she was sick in bed for the week following her welcome-home party, and hasn’t really left the house enough to experience her surge in celebrity.
Besides, she said, Canadian fans are so polite, and she expects them to move on quickly from Olympic hype.
Still, she says she’s “fortunate to have a platform,” and she plans to use it to talk about self-confidence and finding the beauty in quirks — ideas that historically haven’t been at the forefront of figure skating.
Virtue doesn’t think that when it comes time to retire she’ll have any trouble forging an identity apart from Moir. For one, their parents have always encouraged them to define themselves separately from skating.
Secondly, “We’re such different people. Off the ice it’s been quite natural to have different paths and follow our passions, which are kind of at opposite ends of the spectrum.”
The pair will be touring with Stars on Ice for a few months. Then Virtue hopes to finish her undergraduate degree in psychology and pursue an MBA. After that? She’s passionate about fashion, beauty and the business world. She already has lines of eyewear and jewelry.
“We’ll still be there for one another; it will just take a different shape,” Virtue said.
When asked whether she’s under more pressure to conduct herself flawlessly in public than male athletes, including Moir, who celebrate with abandon, pound beers and chew out refs, she said, “I don’t think we always have to be ‘on.’”
It’s not that Moir has more licence to be goofy because he’s a man — it’s just who he is.
“He wears his heart on his sleeve and is so passionate and temperamental and fiery. That’s what people find so appealing ... why we’re all drawn to Scott, because he’s everyone’s best friend. We all want to be around him. He’s that guy yelling at the ref, because he just cares so deeply about the (Canadian) women’s team. He’s in it with them,” she said.
Virtue describes herself, on the other hand, as “inherently private” and “calm and reserved.” Her speaking style is formal, her answers carefully phrased.
But when she talks about whether her sport has become a better place for girls in the nearly 21 years she’s been in it, her face falls a little.
“It’s tough,” she said. “It’s hard to put yourself out there to be judged, not just by the judges on the panel, but critics everywhere.”
In contrast to the camaraderie of a team sport like hockey, figure skating at the junior level is so competitive that skaters’ families often don’t swap tips about training or costumes or skates, or find a way to be happy for one another for their successes, Virtue said.
“The unfortunate thing is it’s not always the friendliest of environments. I hope this landscape is changing ... that skating can become a place of community and kinship.”
So many elite sports for young girls are individual, she said, and the hard thing about getting so good, so young, is that you’re “too young to make those decisions” that set the tone for everyone.
That’s why her support team has been so vital, she added.
“I think it’s getting better. When I look at our coaches in Montreal (Canadian husband-and-wife team Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon), the environment is so motivational. What a really special way to cap off (our) career.”
Cap off? Does that mean they will retire from competition?
“This comeback was always geared to the 2018 Games,” Virtue said, adding they’re in too much of an “emotional fog” to make a decision now.
“I can’t imagine a better way to end.”
‘Genuine love’ is mutual
Why the chemistry between Virtue and Moir has set off so much speculative delight is both “heartwarming” and “hard to wrap my head around,” Virtue said. She guesses that people relate to the love story in their free dance routine to Moulin Rouge, and perhaps find in it a welcome escape from the flood of bad news that has been 2018.
When it comes to the wishes of online “shippers” who want them to be together, “I understand that,” Virtue said — she ships her favourite TV characters.
The “genuine love” and bond the two share, so plain to see, was nurtured with a lot of hard work and the “code of respect” they developed in therapy, she added — anything good that happens, they credit to each other; anything bad is just bad luck.
“Scott can do no wrong in my books,” she said.
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