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Canadian Ice Dancers Step Down The Heat To Step Up At The Podium

Two Canadian retirees have taken time out of their schedule to make it to the Olympics. They're celebrating 20 years together and are eager for their favorite event: Ice dancing free dance (a part of the figure skating category). At 28 and 30 years old, athletes Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir came out of retirement for one last skate on the Olympic stage. After the disappointment of a silver medal in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, they'll leave it all on the ice. Within good taste, that is.

The pair has honed a free program to a medley from the 2001 movie Moulin Rouge! —starring Nicole Kidman and Ewan McGregor. It's the love story of a poor writer and a beautiful courtesan in Belle Epoque Paris. There is intrigue, jealousy, deception — and lots of raw passion. And the athletes originally included a lift that really leaned in to that passion.

Virtue and Moir performed the routine at last month's Canadian championships. The national news agency The Canadian Press found it risqué enough to hesitate before circulating images, according to The Toronto Star. (NPR could not find such photos from the outlet.)

The lift begins when Virtue dips her leg underneath her upright body, then extends it at full speed to launch herself, twisting and flipping up the front of Moir's torso. She lands with her legs on Moir's shoulders, one leg on each side. They spin as she straddles his head for a moment before she gracefully floats back down, touching her skates to the ice.

It takes just a few seconds, but it was too long for comfort for some (despite much of the crowd erupting in standing applause).

(Caution: 2001 movie spoiler ahead.)

"I think edgy would probably summarize most of the program quite well and that's what we were going for," Virtue told The Toronto Star. "We knew that taking the ice at an Olympic Games again meant that we needed to have a different style. We wanted to make a bit of a different statement. If that was bringing an edge or sexuality or darkness, or a contemporary feel to it, then mission accomplished I guess."

Though they won first place in the championships, Moir and Virtue chose to make a change for the decidedly more conservative international Olympic crowds. Not only have they toned down the lift, The Toronto Star reports, but they've also tweaked the ending to make it even more dramatic.

The pair skate their free dance to win the gold at the world figure skating championships in Helsinki, Finland, in April 2017.
Ivan Sekretarev / AP
The pair skate their free dance to win the gold at the world figure skating championships in Helsinki, Finland, in April 2017.

"Of course, my character dies and that was the original ending we'd gone with, sort of faltering to this dramatic death," Virtue told the outlet. "This is a little bit, perhaps, more triumphant in a way ... because our love story gets to linger a little bit longer, with more depth to it. But there's still some sort of heartbreak in the end and there's still some desperation. We're clinging on to something."

The pair is coming back from what many perceived to be a heartbreaking loss to Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White in the Sochi Games. In an interview with Canadian magazine Maclean's, they said they were proud of their performance but decided it was time to leave the field. The two stoke a comfortable and extremely close vibe. They even wrote a book about their long working relationship.

Virtue and Moir were the designated flag bearers for the 225 athletes competing as part of Team Canada. The ice dancing free dance medal competition is scheduled for 12:20 p.m. Monday in South Korea — which is 10:20 p.m. Sunday on the East Coast.

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