Rivals, friends, record-breakers: Virtue and Moir pushed to new heights

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (far left), celebrate their record third Olympic ice dance gold medal with Marie-France Dubreuil (third left) and Patrice Lauzon (far right) and training partners Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (second from right). Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- The career of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Canada's ice dancers who on Tuesday won a record third Olympic gold medal, has been defined by rivalry. They wouldn't have made history time and again without it. In 2010 and 2014, the rivals were Americans Charlie White and Meryl Davis, with whom they trained and against whom they dueled for gold in Vancouver and Sochi.

So it was only natural that when the Canadians chose to come out of retirement in 2016 after two seasons off, they decided to join the couple that would become their closest rivals, France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron. All season, the two couples pushed each other, setting world records only to break them at competition after competition. Everyone else was forced to fight for bronze; they'd take care of gold and silver.

On Tuesday, in a breathtaking, historic ice dance competition, they did it again. First, Papadakis and Cizeron broke their own record in the free dance with an evocative skate to "Moonlight Sonata," setting a world record with 205.28 total points. Virtue and Moir, who led from the short program, needed to top their season's-best score by more than three points to clinch gold.

And that's exactly what they did. Not that they knew what they needed. They'd agreed the night before to plug their ears during the other skates and focus on their own performance. In a sultry, dramatic routine set to music from Moulin Rouge, they broke the record the French set just minutes before with a total score of 206.07. They won by just 0.79 points.

Afterward, they, their French counterparts and their mutual coaches huddled in a circle on the ice, draped in their respective flags, sharing the moment they had worked together to achieve.

The rivalries haven't always been amicable. White, Davis, Virtue and Moir insisted that they all got along, but cracks showed after the Canadians finished second to the Americans in Sochi. Moir accused their coach, Marina Zueva, of not being "in their corner," suggesting that she couldn't strike a balance between her two sets of prized students.

An Olympic champion once more at age 30, sitting next to the skaters who pushed him to reach his second gold, Moir was able to give a little perspective on what those rivalries have given him and Virtue over the years.

"When I was watching Gabby and Guillaume train, when they were terrifying the hell out of me every day, I was really happy. Because I felt like we weren't able to raise each other to a new level without that rivalry," he said. "That's what's different from 2010 and 2014. I realize how special it is to have had those rivals. Sitting in the other chairs, I don't think I really did realize how much Meryl and Charlie brought out of us."

Virtue and Moir, who are expected to retire in the coming weeks, leave these Games as the most decorated figure skaters in history, with three golds and two silvers. American siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani took the bronze with their best performance of the season, to "Paradise" by Coldplay.

Virtue and Moir first started skating together as children, and over the course of their 20 years together they have helped transform ice dance into a modern, vibrant sport.

They helped break the Soviet and later Russian stranglehold on the sport, becoming the first North Americans to win Olympic gold in 2010. "They opened the window for North American ice dancers," said Zueva, who coached them from 2005 to 2014. Their routines have set the internet aflame with fevered speculation about whether they are in fact a real couple, increasing the general interest in ice dance as a sport (if only for an Olympics). Asked when the world may see a partnership like theirs again, their coach Patrice Lauzon said honestly, "It will take a long time."

As they sat in their last Olympic news conference, Virtue and Moir couldn't quite say what their legacy would be. "I don't know what we've given to ice dance. We can't even watch tape of ourselves from 2010. Maybe when we're sitting in our rocking chairs in our old age," Moir said. "How we want to be remembered is by inspiring the next generation. And that goes for Canadians and anybody in the world. Hopefully ice dancers come to a new level."

Virtue and Moir may have been defined by their rivalries, but now, they stand alone in history.