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Figure skating again today. The ladies’ free skate.
On CBC’s coverage, Brenda Irving, Carol Lane and Kurt Browning will blather away. Lane with her stern pronouncements and oddities of pronunciation. Such as Tessa Virtue becoming Tessa-r during the epic drama of the ice-dance competition.
Nothing there about a possible fix. Not much explaining about the weirdness of the marking from the judges, not a lot of explaining.
But could it be explained? Figure skating and ice dancing are strange worlds, by legend and rumour as crooked as they are chintzy. But we don’t mind the silly costumes (what Italian competitors wear is an insult to Italian design and style). We swoon over it all. Such was the case with the theatre of Tessa and Scott’s silver medal and all that surrounded it.
It’s the way she looks at him. It’s the way he holds her, the way he winks at her in that casual, “hey babe” manner.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have always had this aura. They are lost in themselves, complete with each other, intact in each other’s arms. It’s an aura they created because they are performers as well as athletes; highly aware of the allure of romance, highly aware of what the ice-dancing judges and the public projects onto them.
Their loss of a gold medal in Sochi, that second-place finish to the brassy, lithe American duo Meryl Davis and Charlie White, is not their loss. They are done with the Olympics, done with the ice-dancing circuit, and the judges and the ceaseless cycle of competition, and doing the arithmetic of marks for this and that. And they’re better off for it. The loss is ours.
They’ve completed a narrative arc. We, or much of the public, anyway, feel unfulfilled. What many people wanted is the consummation of another gold medal, a longer career, more enchantment with their aura, the one they created but that isn’t real away from the exquisite performance.
Some say the fix was in. There is high dudgeon about that. Fury and fiery words of disgust in newspaper columns and on social media. There is reason to believe the fix was in. The French magazine that suggested collusion between ice-dancing judges, L’Équipe, is no tattle rag. And ice dancing is known to be a murky world.
But Virtue and Moir entered into it willingly. Yes, they’ve been part of it since they were kids. And then as adults they chose to continue to dwell inside it.
On Tuesday, Moir said that having Marina Zoueva coach them while she simultaneously coached Davis and White was awkward and perhaps not in their best interests. But they went along with it, willingly.
As for the fixing – was it fixed in Vancouver when they won gold? Over the years, was it fixed when they came first in world championships or fixed when they came second? There is as much legitimacy to that question as the one asking if the fix was in when the pair lost in Sochi.
They’ve experienced both triumph and second- or third-place finishes. On each occasion, they tried, they were lovely together and they lost or won on the whim of judges or some technical fault that’s obscure to you and me. Maybe there was no fix, and perhaps, as The New York Times suggested in a story predicting an American win, the judges have been signalling a change in emphasis for two years now.
We know Virtue and Moir better than we know a lot of our Olympic athletes. We had, if we chose to watch, a six-part TV series about their personal and professional lives – Tessa & Scott on the W Network. They were brave to do it, but shrewd, too. The series told us a lot. For a start, it hinted at the tensions over Zoueva also coaching their main rivals. What it revealed both elevated and diminished them. It elevated them as people, but diminished them as the darling lovebirds of the public imagination. No, they’re not sweethearts. They are allies. They are allies with a complex, nuanced relationship. Moir has a girlfriend, Cassandra. Virtue, it seems, has never met her. Even when Virtue and Moir were in Paris for a few days, competing in a tournament, and Cassandra accompanied Moir, she and Virtue never met.
Go figure, if you think it’s any of your business.
Both Virtue and Moir wanted out of the cycle of endless training and competing. That became clear in the series. Both wanted to get a life. Virtue speculated about being able to date someone, and joked about the kind of man who would interest her. Moir wanted to disappear, to go home and hang out with his girlfriend.
After those revelations, the performances in Sochi were all the more remarkable. Their comfort with each other. The stunning synchronicity of movement and gesture. The way she looks at him. The way he holds her. The winks, the smiles.
But above all, the dance, the skating. Breathtaking to watch and, in the end, not what the judges valued most. That’s sport, that’s any game at the mercy of anonymous judging.
The outrage that exists is spurious. Virtue and Moir didn’t really lose. Their career as a duo is a complete conquest. Often they came first and always they were dazzling. They melted hearts, too, and that’s where the public comes in – too many people want supermarket-tabloid-style passions, courtship and drama.
People lose that possibility. Virtue and Moir lose nothing. It’s the way it is. And we watch the figure skating and ice dancing, enchanted.