Sochi, Russia: Four years ago, Olympic ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir were living the fairy tale in Vancouver.
Their emotional and perfectly synchronised free dance to Mahler’s Fifth Symphony not only brought the home crowd to its feet, but captivated an entire nation as it sealed gold for the Olympic hosts.
It was the perfect finale for a young couple competing amid huge expectations and pain, with Virtue having undergone surgery on her shins and calves to alleviate a condition known as chronic exertional compartment syndrome.
Standing top of the podium, the first North Americans and youngest dancers to win the Olympic title, they could have retired as heroes, but the pair aged just 20 and 22 years at the time had other ideas.
“It didn’t really enter our minds that we were going to quit. We just kind of looked at each other and knew, it was a feeling,” Moir, 26, told AFP.
“Everybody thought that we were at the top, that we had it all when we were the Olympic champions, but between 2010 and 2014, we’ve learnt a lot about ourselves and others.
“We always felt there was some unfinished business there, we weren’t done yet with the sport.
“The cycle went by pretty quick in some ways. We wanted to try new things and go out there and maybe risk not winning the world title.
“Then the next thing you know we’re trying to get that world title back and then to defend our Olympic title which is a completely new and fresh feeling as well.”
In fact, winning the Olympic title did little to change the lives of the pair from London, Ontario who grew up within 10 minutes of each other and have been skating together for 17 years.
“It was a sense of personal satisfaction,” Virtue, 24, said. “It was reassuring to know that we have this kind of recipe for success. It made us want it again.
“It was a really good lesson to learn that it didn’t really change us. It didn’t make us happier, it didn’t make us better or worse people. There’s maybe a bit more responsibility because we’re a bit more in the public eye but we’re still working with all the same people we were working with before.”
Virtue and Moir have, since Vancouver, won two world titles, but arrive in Sochi as the silver medallists after losing their world title last year at home in Canada to training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the US duo expected to challenge them for gold in Russia.
Their long-running duel with Olympic silver medallists Davis and White, who took the Grand Prix final title ahead of them this season and train with them under Russian coach Marina Zoueva in Michigan, is also a source of motivation.
“It’s competitive and intense,” Virtue admitted. “We both want the same things, so it’s very hard to be best friends when you’re fighting for that.
“I think we’re maybe in the toughest place having to defend our title.”
Sochi will likely be the final Olympics for the pair although they insist they have not made a final decision yet.
“Sometimes we imply that we’re done because we don’t know,” Moir said.
Virtue said: “There’s a lot of speculation and we talk about it often because we don’t know. I think it makes it a little bit more special. It makes us stop and appreciate these moments and you kind of count down and think maybe what if we don’t do another season?”
Despite the passion of their performances on the ice, they won’t be dancing off into the sunset together as a couple after winning a possible two more Olympic medals, with Canada favourities in the new team competition.
“A lot of people think we maybe turn it on when the lights go on or we have this relationship off the ice but it’s love for skating with each other and performing,” Moir insisted.