INTERVIEW-Figure Skating-Francophile Virtue checks out French Riviera

NICE, France, March 27 (Reuters) - Olympic champion Tessa Virtue has already drawn up a wish list of things she wants to do once she hangs up her skating boots and right at the top is her desire to live in France.

The Canadian Francophile will get a chance to check out the country first hand this week when she tries to win back the ice dancing world championship title in Nice with her partner Scott Moir.

“School’s always been very important to me. I’d love to study abroad. I really want to learn French so I think it would be great to go and live in France and maybe learn the language for a few months,” Virtue, who regularly commutes across the border from her Michigan training base to study psychology at the University of Windsor in Ontario, told Reuters in an interview.

“Long-term I would love to go to law school. So those are goals of mine and it’s exciting looking ahead to some of those chances.”

As she flew into Nice, Virtue would have no doubt noted the clear blue skies and the sun shining down on the sparkling water surrounding the French Riviera.

It is just a shame that the 22-year-old will be unable to enjoy much of the picturesque scenery this week considering she will be stuck indoors in a freezing ice rink with Moir, 24, as they try to become the first Canadians to win two ice dance world crowns.

“Last year was a tough year. We didn’t compete as much as we wanted to as Tessa needed to get surgery done in her shins again,” Moir, who had to settle for silver behind American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White last April, told Reuters.

“Obviously, we didn’t accomplish our goal of winning back our world title. We’re a lot hungrier this year to get that world title back.”

Virtue added: “Last season was a roller coaster. Certainly not ideal. It was really difficult dealing with the injury and coming back just to compete at the world championships.

“Anytime an athlete deals with an injury, it forces you to revaluate and refocus. I’m stronger because of it. We’re training better and we’re training smarter. I’m much more aware of my body and its limits.”

The competition in Nice marks the halfway point of the Winter Games cycle and the battle between the two North American couples, who between them have won every major competition they have entered since the start of the 2009-2010 season, should be a strong indicator as to whether the next Olympic ice dance title will go to the United States or Canada.

While many pundits believe that Virtue and Moir have more to lose than win at the Sochi Games since they have already won the biggest prize in their sport, and on home ice, the duo disagree.

“No one can take my Olympic gold medal away from me. Going to Sochi and to try and win another one does not take me out of the record books, take my medal away or take the journey that took to get there away from me,” said Moir, whose triumph at last month’s Four Continents championships snapped Davis and White’s run of 10 successive victories.

“We really love to skate and love training every day, we love working with each other and that’s what it’s all about. Going to Sochi is not about going there to win a medal. As much as it’s nice and will be icing on the cake, it’s about the journey. We definitely don’t have more to lose then gain.”

Virtue added: “It’s hard to think ‘how does it get any better than winning Olympic gold in your own country, in Canada’. However, there are still more things we can do on the ice, we’re still improving and growing as athletes, so who knows, it may feel even better to win Olympic gold in a new territory.”

The duo, however, acknowledge that after spending 15 years living in each other’s pockets, they will have to deal with their ‘skating divorce’ sometime over the next few years.

“We think about it all the time and joke that we will be doing ballroom lessons together. It’s kind of interesting when you are partners in skating but you are also business partners and you share so much of your life together,” said Moir.

“After our amateur careers we’ll still have that. We will have a very unique friendship probably through our whole life. There aren’t very many people out there, including my girlfriend, that understand me as well as Tessa does.

“So it’s a great relationship to have and such a blessing to have her in my life.” (Editing by Ed Osmond)