TORONTO – When Tessa Virtue watched Derek Drouin soar to a high jump gold medal this past summer in Rio, the connection she felt went beyond being a fellow Olympic champion.
In the weeks after Rio, Drouin revealed he had competed through a stress fracture in his back, a persevering-through-pain theme that also ran through Virtue’s gold medal performance at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. Virtue was suffering through compartment syndrome in her legs – it would eventually require a second surgery – and the pain was so severe there were days she could barely walk from her room at the athletes village to the cafeteria.
“Of course we watched Derek and cheered him on, and that was one of the highlights for me from the Rio Olympics, just seeing his intense focus and concentration and composure, all the while sort of knowing the back story of what he’d been dealing with,” said Virtue, who shares a sports psychologist with Drouin in J.F. Menard. “He is the ultimate competitor, so it’s been interesting to gain some insight into his process leading into the Games.
“I think we have a mutual admiration society going on here because Scott (Moir) and I are huge Derek Drouin fans.”
Virtue and Moir are making a comeback after a two-year hiatus, and are gunning for Olympic gold in 2018 in Pyeongchang. Weeks before they would step back on the competitive ice, the ice dancers drew inspiration from watching their summer counterparts competing in Rio.
“Any and everything we could possibly watch,” Virtue said of her Olympic viewing. “It was such a great reminder of what it is we’re working towards, and what it is we’re investing every bit of ourselves to achieve and accomplish. And yet, tearing myself away from the couch and the TV to go and train to be that person was a real struggle, because I just wanted to take it all in.”
Virtue, 27, and Moir, 29, are headlining Skate Canada International next week in Mississauga, Ont., the beginning of a two-year process they hope leads to another Olympic title.
“Make no mistake, we’re coming back and we want to win these competitions, our goal next week is to win,” Moir said. “At the same time, it’s going to take a lot, and we understand that, it’s a process, there will be growing pains. But let’s be honest, we’re not coming back to be at the Olympics, just to be there, we want to win.”
On Drouin’s performance, Virtue, who has twice had surgery to repair the compartment syndrome that derailed big chunks of her career, said it’s not uncommon for athletes to compete through “battle wounds.” The London, Ont., native believes she’s a stronger athlete for the experience.
“Experience is a really wonderful thing, and in a way we’ve been fortunate to have had so many ups and downs in our career, and a lot of struggles and a lot of sacrifices,” she said. “But again, that’s just an athlete’s story. It’s so uncommon for athletes to push themselves the way they do and not have injuries as a result.
“If anything it’s made us grateful because I know every day I get to train without that pain, I’m just thanking my lucky stars that it’s not a daily issue anymore. I’m grateful for the opportunity to train again, and push myself to the limits, and also for the experience. . . because you never know what the next obstacle will be so you just have to hope you have a repertoire of coping skills.”
Two-time world pairs champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford are also big Olympic fans. Radford said he particularly enjoyed the gymnastics and synchronized diving in Rio.
“It has specific elements that are very similar to pairs skating,” Radford said of diving. “I love watching the Olympics. I love hearing the different stories from the different sports, and hearing about the different dynamics of each sport, and what their training is like and what people have been through to get to where they are, and that goes for the Paralympics too, everybody has such an amazing story.”
Skate Canada International – part of the ISU Grand Prix circuit – begins Oct. 27.