TORONTO — The pressure at Gangneung Ice Arena was palpable. The world was watching. But in what was among the most memorable four minutes of the Pyeongchang Olympics, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir delivered the skate of their lives.
A world record total score, and a third gold medal that made the Canadian ice dance darlings the most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history. Virtue and Moir perfectly executed a golden plan they’d announced — to mixed reviews — when they’d returned to the sport 18 months earlier.
"When we announced our comeback, no one was happy, competitors, skaters, family, friends, even our governing body, everyone was surprised, because it was such a risk," Virtue said. "Maybe because we believed in ourselves and believed in what we could pursue, we felt there was so much more to do."
On Friday, Virtue and Moir were rewarded for their historic comeback performance by winning the The Canadian Press team of the year award for 2018. The ice dancers picked up 39 of 54 votes (72.2 per cent) in a poll of writers, broadcasters and editors from across the country.
"Virtue and Moir … it’s up there with Torvill and Dean now," said Wayne Chamberlain, sports editor of Postmedia’s Editorial Services. "They captivated a global audience with their swan song performance and made many a Canadian eye tear up."
The Canadian junior hockey team that won gold at the 2018 world junior championships in Buffalo was second with five of 54 votes (9.3 per cent), while Laval’s football team that went undefeated and captured the Vanier Cup was third with four votes (7.4 per cent).
"It’s so incredible, I was looking back at the history of this (award) to get some perspective and just trying to understand how 10 months later people still seem to care, or remember us, and it’s a great moment to reflect," Virtue said. "Of course it’s the end of the year, but 10 months after the Games, it’s a nice chance to just take a moment and reflect on the impact at the Olympics had across Canada."
Golfer Brooke Henderson captured the Bobbie Rosenfeld Award on Wednesday as the year’s top female athlete, while freestyle skier Mikael Kingsbury won the Lionel Conacher Award as the top male athlete on Thursday.
Partners for two decades, Virtue, from London, Ont., and Moir, from Ilderton, Ont., had been melting hearts since they claimed gold at the 2010 Vancouver Games. They stepped away from the sport for two seasons after their silver in Sochi, returning with a single-minded focus of gold in South Korea.
Virtue and Moir held a slim lead over Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France after the short dance, despite the fact Papadakis skated most of the program with the clasp of her dress broken.
The next night, when Papadakis and Cizeron recorded a world record in the free dance, Virtue and Moir were waiting in the wings fingers in ears. They purposely didn’t look at any television monitors.
Then Virtue, in a gauzy backless red dress, and Moir, channelling his inner Ewan McGregor, brought the crowd to its feet with their breathtaking performance to music from "Moulin Rouge," a movie they’d loved ever since they saw it together as kids.
"We knew we were trained, we were fully confident in our preparation. We had never been in better shape mentally. We were laser focused," Virtue said. "But that doesn’t take away the nerves and it certainly doesn’t take away the gravity of the pressure.
"There were so many times throughout that day, and especially that half an hour leading into our final skate, where Scott just looked at me and reminded me: ‘You know, this is exactly what we asked for. This is what we wanted when we decided to come back to competition,’ … a ‘bring it on’ sort of a thing. And it was terrifying and unsettling, daunting, and yet also really exhilarating.
"That thrill of taking the ice on the world’s biggest stage, the pressure mounting, I think that’s the sort of exhilaration we’ll be chasing for the rest of our lives probably."
The duo, who also helped Canada win gold in the team event in Pyeongchang, were among the Games’ most popular athletes. Fans swooned to their chemistry and lapped up the Canadian "love story," which wasn’t so much a love story as a tale of friends and business partners.
"Virtue and Moir saved their best for last and captured Canada’s hearts with a flawless Olympic finale in a sport where judging means that is sometimes not enough," said Dave Peters, the Montreal Gazette’s sports and photo editor.
Virtue still hasn’t watched her performance from South Korea. She’s too much of a perfectionist. But millions of people have. Just one YouTube video of their Olympic free dance program has almost three million views.
Virtue and Moir are the second figure skating duo to win the award, which was first presented in 1966 to the Montreal Canadiens. Pairs skaters Jamie Sale and David Pelletier won it in 2001.