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You’d never know it, considering the chemistry between Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir as they skated to gold this week, but a little over a year ago, Moir was training alone—using a hockey stick and a sandbag as a stand-in for his partner.
Back then, Virtue could “barely walk,” says Lynn Lee, a close friend of the Moirs.
Moir’s mom Alma and her twin sister Carol both skated competitively, then later coached; his older brothers Danny and Charlie also competed.
“I never coached my own boys,” says Alma, chuckling. I coached her daughters—that was our trade-off.” It was Carol who first thought of pairing Virtue, from nearby London, with Moir.
Her coaches, who held weekly conference calls with her doctor and physiotherapist, had to be careful not to push too hard.
Virtue and Moir’s return to the competitive circuit began in Vancouver, a year ago this month, at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships at the Pacific Coliseum, the Olympic figure skating venue.
Virtue, 20, and Moir, 22, missed most of the 2008-2009 season while she recuperated from surgery to both of her legs.
“Last year was very tough,” says their coach and choreographer, Igor Shpilband.
In October 2008, Virtue went under the knife to relieve pain in her shins, the result of chronic exertional compartment syndrome (each of her calves still bears four circular scars from the surgery).
As painful as that event was for Virtue—who was hustled to the medic for treatment after every skate—it was a triumph for the pair. And in every competition since, they’ve gotten better, says Skate Canada CEO William Thompson. Not only did they return; they’re stronger than ever.” The pair started skating together 13 years ago, when Virtue was seven, and Moir, nine—a remarkable run for the sport, where partnerships are forever being made and unmade by coaches on the hunt for the perfect pairing.
Moir, the son of a chemical plant employee and a figure skating coach, grew up in a house backing onto the local rink—a squat blue building on the town’s main strip—in tiny Ilderton, just north of London, Ont.
“And for the longest time before that they didn’t even know what was wrong with her.” Yes, it’s been quite the ride for Canada’s golden duo, the youngest ice dance gold medallists in history, and the first North Americans to win the event in its 30-year Olympic history.It makes their victory, following a near-flawless skate on Monday, even more remarkable.