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Olympic gold ice-dance pair Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue have written a book about their long partnership. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)
Olympic gold ice-dance pair Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue have written a book about their long partnership. (Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail/Fernando Morales/The Globe and Mail)

The platonic passion of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir Add to ...

They love each other. But not in the way you might expect or, more importantly, hope. They behave like a romantic couple, too: that tendency to finish each other's sentences, that ability to talk without saying a word.

They have even made a practice of synchronizing their breathing.

Soulmates? We wish. But maybe that's because the culture has a narrow and clichéd concept of what love is. We always think that its greatest expression is the romantic partnership, where everything is shared, intense gazes of longing are exchanged, and some sublime transcendence is achieved.

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Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Canada's Olympic gold ice-dancing champions, can certainly evoke that romantic fantasy on the ice. They flirt. They kiss. They hug. They yearn. They look at each other as if no one else exists.

But they're not lovers.

And yet, the greatest irony of their relationship is that they're more in sync than most couples who have been married for ages.

"I realized last season that it didn't matter how individually we felt, it was about how we were when we came together," says Ms. Virtue, whose china-doll looks (doe eyes, porcelain complexion, wavy hair) belie her tough-as-nails business behaviour.

"Scott walked up to me before the compulsory dance, which was the first time we competed in Vancouver, and he hugged me and we got our breathing matched. We did that before we took the ice every time. … It's so important in ice dancing that you're so together. So many times our worst performances are when we feel good [individually]and you really try to nail it and you put the other person off."

The young couple talk easily about their partnership, which began in childhood and took them to the podium last February in Vancouver. At age 20 and 22, they became the youngest ice-dancing pair in the history of the sport to win gold, a significant achievement of drive, commitment, sacrifice and tenacity that's documented in their new book Tessa & Scott, Our Journey from Childhood Dream to Gold.

Romance was never a possibility?

"That option never really happened, "Mr. Moir says. "We just left it on the sidelines." He glances at Ms. Virtue. "Right?"

"It's hard when you've grown up with someone," she says in her straightforward manner. She looks at him as a sister might - interested but indifferent. "I've known Scott since I was 6 or 7."

"It was romantic in the beginning," he adds, teasing her. In their book, they tell the story of how they "dated" for eight months when she was 8 and he was 10. When his friends teased him, he phoned her up, told her it was over, and promptly hung up.

"I think that ruined it for us," he jokes of their failed puppy love.

It's no wonder Roots leapt at the opportunity to sign the Olympic pair to a sponsorship deal. They play out a perfect Canadian script. A boy meets a girl. They both skate. Each is the youngest in rambunctious, athletic families, whose lives revolve around the local rink.

They grew up in the same neighborhood in London, Ont. His aunt was her coach as a young singles skater. Graceful and petite, she passed up the opportunity to enter the prestigious National Ballet School at age 9 to devote herself to skating, even though "ballet is probably my No. 1 passion."

As they grew up on the competitive circuit, they became each other's key support. Their signature pairs-skating move - in which she strikes a swan-like pose while supported on his back - is called "the Goose."

Now, as Olympic gold champions, they continue to plan their athletic life together - but only one year at a time. "Just because we're so excited about how we did in the last Olympics, it's premature to say, 'Okay, we will be in the next Olympics,' " says Mr. Moir, who appears to be the more relaxed of the two. "We don't know where we will be in two years' time. Even next March [after the World Championships in Tokyo]things could change."

Currently training in Canton, Mich., where they work out every day for nearly eight hours on and off the ice, they return home to London on weekends to be with their families. Ms. Virtue is also studying part-time for a degree in psychology at the University of Windsor. She would like to go to law school "at some point." Mr. Moir, who has not attended university, is considering a return to education.

While they project an image of perfect synchronicity, they're quick to point out that the closeness of their relationship requires constant work.

In 2008, when she had surgery to relieve pain in her shins due to overtraining, they went two-and-a-half months without speaking. "We really neglected the personal side of our relationship, and thought we could just continue skating without having that off-ice time," Ms. Virtue says. "We had to rebuild that trust."

They look at each other with an expression of sexless intimacy, like business partners whose emotions are part of their product.

How do they deal with the scrutiny on their personal lives?

"We haven't had scrutiny, have we?" Mr. Moir says to Ms. Virtue.

"Feels like it," she says soberly.

"No, not really, " he adds, breezily dismissing the thought. "Do you want to talk about it?" he asks her.

She lifts her eyebrows quizzically in acknowledgment of the conversational baton he has handed her. "It comes with the territory,' she says carefully, politely. "You put yourself in the public eye. You're kind of an open target."

And fame and fortune? They both laugh at the thought. "You don't win the Olympic to make millions," Mr. Moir says.

If there's anything clichéd about them, it's their Canadian attitude.

"People are always like, 'Where is your Lamborghini?' " Mr. Moir offers with a laugh.

Ms. Virtue sits virtuously silent, a smile on her pretty face.

What does he drive?

"Chevy Impala," he says. And they both laugh.

Follow on Twitter: @Hampsonwrites

 

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