Olympic ice dancing champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had been away from their training rink in Canton, Ohio for six weeks, when they heard that their two coaches, Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband were feuding.
Some of their friends in the rink, Arctic Edge Arena, had been keeping them in the loop in the six weeks away when they had performed across Canada on the Stars On Ice tour and during a vacation that included time in Jamaica for the wedding of Olympic pair skaters Anabelle Langlois and Cody Hay. Virtue and Moir had also been in touch with Zoueva.
When they returned to train in early June, they found out that Shpilband had been fired. It came as a shock to Shpilband, a Russian-born coach who has put North American figure skating on the map.
And the firing became an unexpected turn in the career of Virtue and Moir, who had moved to his club to train eight years ago. "We had a little coaching change that we weren’t really expecting," Moir said.
Shpilband, 47, was told to leave the club by management who said a conflict between the two had created tensions in the club. "Marina and Igor just weren’t seeing eye to eye on some really important things," Moir said. "And they had to split ways. It was really unfortunate."
The split left Shpilband looking for a new club, after having been in Canton with Zoueva for 10 years. He’s taking at least one ice dance team with him to his new club in Novi, Mich.,: Americans Madison Chock and Evan Bates.
Virtue and Moir decided to stay in Canton with Zoueva.
"That was our gut feeling," said Moir, who was in Toronto with Virtue making appearances for sponsor PricewaterhouseCoopers.
"We have a very special relationship with Marina," he said. "We would have been successful with Igor as well. But we knew the right choice for us was Marina."
Moir said he and Virtue would miss Shpilband, who was a technical master. "We love Igor," he said. "Not only does he give great leadership and has given us direction for the past seven years, but he’s also a dear friend of ours."
The skater from Ilderton, Ont., said he’ll miss Shpilband’s well-rounded talents as a coach.
"There are going to be a lot of dancers that will really benefit from him," Moir said. "Technically, he’s so sound. He has great technique. The way he teaches skating, he’s very passionate.
"He brings a very enthusiastic energy, so it’s not going to be easy to replace him. It’s going to be tough. He’s also extremely creative and comes up with cool moves."
Currently, Virtue and Moir are back training, working on some new lifts and spins, and playing with some ideas for new programs. They have made no decisions yet on their routines, Virtue said. But they will always try to follow what they’ve done in the past: trying something new.
With Shpilband and Zoueva working together, Vitue and Moir won two world championship titles – most recently one in Nice France a couple of months ago – and an Olympic gold medal. The Shpilband-Zoueva partnership swept the podium at the 2011 world championships in Moscow, with their three top teams winning all of the medals.
They also coached 2011 world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States and 2011 world bronze medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani, also of the United States.
Davis and White are also sticking with Zoueva in Canton, working alongside their arch rivals and friends, Virtue and Moir.
In a statement, Zoueva said they built the ice dancing program together, but were "going in different directions."