Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir came out of retirement to compete at the 2018 Olympics with a “stone cold” focus.
“T and I … we wanted to win, and nothing else,” Moir said.
Their ferocious gold-medal pursuit led to a fierce push and pull with Montreal coaches Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, whose focus was on the process and not the outcome.
“They helped us understand that [gold] actually wasn’t the goal. Our goal was to be the best we could possibly be … but the double-edged sword of it is it allows you to be your best as well, when you have your priorities and you’re connected with the joy of skating and why you started skating,” Moir said Wednesday at Skate Canada’s national team training camp.
“And the higher you get, the higher the pressure is. And you forget that so easily.”
Virtue and Moir retired after winning gold at the 2018 Games as the most decorated ice dancers in history.
Moir hadn’t considered coaching as a career, but he was so sold on the philosophy instilled by Dubreuil and Lauzon at the Ice Academy of Montreal (I.AM), he became the head of their satellite program in London, Ont.
“My time in Montreal changed … well, it changed my life. I know Tess feels the same way,” Moir said. “I fell back in love with the sport again.”
Of the 23 dance teams at the Beijing Olympics, Dubreuil and Lauzon, who captured back-to-back world silver medals before retiring in 2007, coached 10 of them at I.AM, including gold medalists Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France.
Dubreuil, Lauzon and former French skater Romain Haguenauer co-founded the academy in 2014. They had one team in the Sochi Olympics that year. They had four teams four years later in Pyeongchang, including Virtue and Moir.
In Beijing, country allegiances seemed to melt away between the 10 Montreal-based teams. Instead there were plenty of hugs and high-fives.
“We take care of the human being more than anything else,” Lauzon said in Beijing. “I think that’s what draws people in.”
Haley Sales and Nikolas Wamsteeker, who are at this week’s national team camp, are one of Moir’s dance teams.
The two, who’ve twice been fourth at the Canadian championships, described Moir as a positive, high-energy coach who spends most of his time on the ice rather than behind the boards.
“His love for skating has not faded,” Wamsteeker said.
They’ve noticed a shift in their skating since moving to London a year ago.
“The really unique thing about having a coach so fresh off the circuit was interesting, and more in tune with the modern kind of ice dance,” said Sales. “I would say we’ve learned a lot more of the artistic side of skating, which we felt like we really needed.”
“I’m starting to realize more and more of [Moir’s influence] in my skating, watching the videos from years past it wasn’t there,” added Wamsteeker. “And it’s hard to put my finger on it, but it’s a fluidity, it’s performance.”
They’re one of nine dance couples based in London. There are another 17 in the Montreal program.
While there’s been criticism about coaching skaters who compete for countries other than Canada, Moir said the program works for the Canadians as well
“We see the strength in the numbers … we believe that it makes our Canadian kids better, stronger,” Moir said. “There are some people that it doesn’t work for, which is fine. But usually it is life changing, and in this day and age, we need sport done in the right way more than ever. That’s the whole commitment we made to each other. And hopefully, we can continue to uphold it.”
The 34-year-old Moir recently married longtime girlfriend Jaclyn Mascarin after COVID-19 twice threw a wrench into wedding plans. They have an 18-month-old daughter.
Moir’s mom Alma and his aunt Carol, who were Virtue and Moir’s first coaches, run the nearby Ilderton Skating Club, and can provide a developmental feeder system for dancers.
“So they’re bringing up little teams, and they’re also involved in the I.AM Ontario campus. So it’s a nice little crossover that helps us,” Moir said.
Moir, who often reaches out to Virtue if he has a skating question he can’t figure out, said there’s a big sense of satisfaction in the success of his athletes. But it comes in the moments away from competition.
“It’s the little victories, and they mostly happen in training when you have a day and everything’s clicking, and you’re like, ‘Oh, my God, I am actually having an impact!’ I do have those moments,” he said. “Sometimes it’s the actual skills that they’re getting, such as doing a perfect rocker turn that we’ve been working on forever.
“Most of the time, it’s how the kids behave, and their skills that they’ll take on to do whatever they do in the rest of their life – little things like being vulnerable, giving everything they have and even showing up on time and writing an e-mail that they’re supposed to.
“It’s the little victories that I find extremely rewarding.”