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Who is Canada’s greatest Olympian?

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Canada is one of few nations with more gold medals in the Winter Olympics than the Summer Olympics, though its greatest Olympian may be a dual Summer/Winter Olympian. A look at some of its legends …

Charles Hamelin
Short Track Speed Skating
Three Olympic gold medals

Canada’s most decorated male Winter Olympian with five medals (his three golds and one silver break a tie with fellow short trackers Marc Gagnon and François-Louis Tremblay, who didn’t have the individual Olympic success that Hamelin boasts). Hamelin has been competing in the world championships since 2004 and the Olympics since 2006, still going as of last season. He owns multiple world titles at each distance, and Olympic golds in three different events (one relay). Hamelin’s peak occurred on Feb. 26, 2010, when he earned Olympic 500m and 5000m relay titles in the same hour, at home in Vancouver.

Kaillie Humphries
Bobsled
Two Olympic gold medals

Largely considered the greatest female bobsledder in history. Humphries is an American now, but, as a Canadian, became the first female driver to win multiple Olympic titles in 2010 and 2014, then tacked on a bronze in 2018. She also won two world titles and four World Cup season titles, trailing only to German Sandra Kiriasis (who won one Olympic title). This all came after Humphries abandoned an Alpine skiing career at age 16 due to injuries, then failed to make the 2006 Olympic team as a brakewoman.

Kathleen Heddle/Marnie McBean
Rowing
Three Olympic gold medals

Olympic champions in three different events. Olympic medalists in four different events. The first women to earn multiple rowing golds at a single Olympics. At the turn of the millennium, McBean was the only woman to earn a medal in all six open-weight classes at a world championships or Olympics. Heddle began rowing at 18 and retired between their first and second Olympics (1992 and 1996), lured back by McBean. McBean did more at worlds (eight medals, three titles), but a back injury kept her out of the 2000 Sydney Games after Heddle retired for good.

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir
Figure Skating
Three Olympic gold medals

Most decorated figure skaters in Olympic history, thanks in part to the addition of the team event. In 2010, Virtue and Moir became the youngest Olympic ice dance champions at 20 and 22, after first pairing in elementary school in Ontario. They dropped to silver in Sochi, then emerged from a two-year break to ascend back to the top of ice dance. Virtue and Moir earned double gold in PyeongChang, their final competition. They had such chemistry on the ice, such a magnetic romanticism, that many refused to believe they weren’t a couple off of it.

Hayley Wickenheiser
Hockey, Softball
Four Olympic gold medals

Arguably the greatest female hockey player in history. Wickenheiser competed in the first five Olympic women’s hockey tournaments — 1998 through 2014 — among a 23-year span with the national team. She was MVP of the Olympic tournament in 2002, then again in 2006. Some forget that she also made Canada’s softball team for the 2000 Sydney Games. Wickenheiser, who grew up on a Saskatchewan ranch, also attended the Philadelphia Flyers rookie training camp in 1998 and 1999.

BEST OLYMPIANS: China | Germany | Italy | Japan

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Shaun White, Mikaela Shiffrin among dominant Winter Olympians of 2010s

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NBCSports.com looks back at the 2010s decade this week. Here are 10 Winter Olympic athletes who dominated the last 10 years …

Marit Bjørgen, Norway
Cross-Country Skiing
Eight Olympic gold medals in the 2010s
Broke career Winter Olympic medals record

A strong argument can be made that Bjørgen was the greatest Olympian of the 2010s — Summer or Winter. Her medal total for the decade — eight golds, 13 overall — would alone tie the record for most career Winter Olympic medals. She came back from childbirth to earn five medals, two golds, at the PyeongChang Olympics before retiring. That included winning the Games-closing 30km freestyle by a whopping 109 seconds, the greatest margin for any Olympic cross-country race since 1980.

Natalie Geisenberger, Germany
Luge
Six Olympic or world singles titles between 2013-19
Won the last seven World Cup season titles

Geisenberger, a skiing-to-sliding convert, won the Sochi Olympic title by 1.139 seconds, the largest margin in any Olympic luge event since 1964. In a stretch from 2012-15, she won 23 of her 29 Olympic, World Cup and world championships starts. Her PyeongChang defense was also impressive, winning by a margin greater than the one that separated second place from sixth.

Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan
Figure Skating
2014, 2018 Olympic champion
First skater to score 100 points in a short program, 200 in a free skate, 300 overall

Hanyu, then 14, was 12th at the 2009 World Junior Championships won by Adam Rippon. The next season, he was the world junior champion, setting the tone for a quadrennium in which he would rise to become the second teen to win the Olympic men’s singles title. From there, Hanyu combined jumping and artistry like no other skater, winning two world titles, another Olympic title and, the last five years, never finishing worse than second in a competition.

Marcel Hirscher, Austria
Alpine Skiing
Seven combined individual Olympic or world titles in the 2010s
Eight straight World Cup overall titles

The defining male skier of the decade. Hirscher may not have enjoyed Olympic success until PyeongChang (winning the super combined and giant slalom), but he captured an arguably more coveted crown every year from 2012 through 2019 — World Cup overall champion. Nobody else in history bagged more than six World Cup overalls. His 66 World Cup victories in the 2010s are a record for a single decade.

Sven Kramer, Netherlands
Speed Skating
Olympic 5000m champion in 2010, 2014, 2018
Six World Allround titles in the 2010s

You knew Kramer was something special at the start of the decade. At Vancouver 2010, Shani Davis, who preceded the Dutchman as the world’s best skater, called him “the Big Dog” before being paired together in what would be Kramer’s first Olympic gold-medal race. In addition to Olympic titles, he went undefeated at the historic world allround championships from 2007-17 and unbeaten at 5000m on the top international level for nearly six years from 2012-18.

Mikaela Shiffrin, United States
Alpine Skiing
Seven combined individual Olympic or world titles in the 2010s
Four straight World Cup overall titles

In slalom alone, Shiffrin won about 60 percent of her World Cup starts this decade. She became the youngest Olympic slalom gold medalist in Sochi (18 years old), then began branching out. By the end of last season, Shiffrin also earned Olympic or world titles in giant slalom and super-G, World Cup wins in every discipline and a single-season record 17 World Cup victories.

Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Canada
Figure Skating
2010, 2018 Olympic ice dance champions
Five Olympic medals a record for figure skaters

The only figure skaters to earn medals at every Olympics this decade. Virtue and Moir delivered under home-ice pressure at Vancouver 2010. They were defeated by training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White in 2014, then returned from a two-year break to shatter scoring records and earn two more gold medals in PyeongChang (dance and team). They finished first or second in all of their ice dance competitions in the decade.

Lindsey Vonn, United States
Alpine Skiing
2010 Olympic downhill champion
Overcame major crashes, surgeries to break female World Cup wins record

Beyond the medals and victories, Vonn was a symbol of determination in the 2010s. From the very start. She competed at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics with a severely bruised shin that caused “excruciating” pain. Over the decade, she would amass so many injuries that an annually updated OlympicTalk post labeled a “brief synopsis” of them totaled more than 800 words. Vonn missed the Sochi Olympics after blowing out her right knee in a February 2013 World Championships crash, and re-injuring the knee that November and December in a rushed comeback. She returned from a broken ankle, fractured left knee, broken right arm and twisted back to reach the PyeongChang Olympics, where she earned a hard-fought downhill bronze. She retired last season, four wins shy of Ingemar Stenmark‘s World Cup record, after another crash and knee injury.

Shaun White, United States
Snowboarding
2010, 2018 Olympic halfpipe champion
Four X Games halfpipe titles in the 2010s

White was the sport’s dominant figure at the start of the decade. He then rallied from a mid-2010s drop-off (fourth at the Sochi Olympics) to return to the top of the podium in PyeongChang. He defeated riders nearly a decade younger while attempting (and landing) back-to-back double cork 1440s at a contest for the first time. White is now the youngest and oldest male Olympic halfpipe champion, doing so in his teens, 20s and 30s.

Ireen Wuest, Netherlands
Speed Skating
Individual Olympic titles in 2010, 2014 and 2018
Five-time World allround champion

Wuest earned Olympic titles in three different events this decade, and medals in five of the six Olympic speed skating disciplines. She also finished in the top three at every world allround championships from 2010-18. Wuest, already with 11 medals, has an outside chance of reaching Bjørgen’s career Winter Olympic medals record (15) at Beijing 2022.

Honorable Mention: Dario Cologna (Switzerland, Cross-Country Skiing), Kaillie Humphries (Canada, Bobsled), Martin Fourcade (France, Biathlon) and Mikaël Kingsbury (Canada, Freestyle Skiing).

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BEST OF 2010s: Summer Olympians | Winter Olympians | Teams
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Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir pushed ice dance boundaries throughout exemplary career

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The announcement was hardly unexpected, so much so that it created little buzz even on figure skating news groups.

After all, no one thought Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir would be extending their extraordinary competitive career after taking another post-Olympic leave from the sport with yet another Olympic ice dance medal (this one a second gold) on their résumé.

And retirement is what they in fact confirmed last week.

Yet there was part of me that hoped they would come back again, especially with this season’s world championships not only in their own country but also in the same city, Montreal, as their training base before the PyeongChang Olympics.

Whether they won another world medal or not in Montreal – and a recommitted Virtue and Moir were very likely to be on the podium, if not atop it – the couple would have been awash in deserved acclaim from the home crowd, as they were in winning their first Olympic title in Vancouver in 2010 with a free dance that left me spellbound then and does the same in every re-viewing.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3L46KQaKOhU

There will undoubtedly be some celebration of Virtue and Moir’s career as they perform on the Rock the Rink tour that begins Oct. 5 in British Columbia and meanders across Canada (with one stop in Cleveland) for nearly two months, playing mainly smaller arenas in smaller cities.

It would be more fitting if they could play the big stage, the 2020 world meet at the Bell Centre in Montreal. Maybe add them to the lineup for the gala? Skate Canada would say only they will have a role at this season’s worlds.

I had done interviews last year in PyeongChang to write an appreciation for Virtue and Moir after they won two more gold medals, team and individual, but that idea hit the digital dead letter file when the women’s singles event generated an avalanche of storylines.

Now, with the confirmation of their retirement, it’s time to use some of those interviews and the history-making achievements on their record to convey and appreciate their singular excellence.

*By the numbers: Virtue and Moir are one of two teams to win two Olympic ice dance golds, one of two to win three medals (gold-silver-gold; the other team, Marina Klimova and Sergei Ponomarenko of the Soviet Union, won bronze-silver-gold.) With two team event medals, silver and gold, Virtue and Moir have a record five Olympic figure skating medals.

In 2010, they were the youngest to win Olympic ice dance gold and the first Olympic dance champions from outside Europe. In 2018, he was the fourth-oldest man, she the third-oldest woman to win ice dance gold. They had competed against their final coaches, Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon, at Skate Canada in … 2006.

*British ice dance team Penny Coomes and Nicholas Buckland used their 2018 Olympic short dance as homage to their compatriots, Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, who dazzled the world with their innovative, thematic programs en route to the 1984 Olympic gold medal. Coomes and Buckland see Virtue and Moir’s skating as an extension of what Torvill and Dean had done.

“Torvill and Dean reinvigorated ice dance and took it to a place nobody had ever seen,” Coomes said. “Tessa and Scott have picked up that ball and carried it a little further.”

In the mid-1980s, there were few written rules governing ice dance, so Torvill and Dean revised the unwritten rules about programs that had left the discipline in predictable stasis.

By the time Virtue and Moir began senior international competition in fall 2006, the International Skating Union had implemented a scoring and judging system that codified everything, including ice dance.

Then a big piece of the new rules changed after 2010, with the compulsory dances eliminated. Virtue and Moir simply adapted.

“When the new judging system was introduced, you saw a lot of couples do the same things on the ice,” Coomes said. “Tessa and Scott took the rules and expanded them. Rather than stick in the box, they reached outside the box and grabbed new and innovative ideas.”

Some were in lifts created by Igor Shpilband, one of the coaches who helped them win the 2010 Olympic gold. Others came from their ability to use their surpassing skating skills to create corporeal unison that allowed two bodies to assume the moving shape of one. They were artists and technicians.

Their relationship in performance was so close and complete, especially in romantic programs, that many assumed, incorrectly, they were a couple off the ice as well.

As my colleague Lynn Rutherford wrote during her valedictory to Virtue and Moir: “Skating to the tender music from ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ or Gustav Mahler’s haunting ‘Adagietto,’ Virtue and Moir could break your heart as easily as they could spin off perfect twizzles.”

The Mahler-based free dance at the 2010 Olympics, to a piece of his Fifth Symphony, is Virtue and Moir’s transcendent masterpiece. As I wrote that night in the Chicago Tribune, they had an “exquisite interpretation … subtly underscoring the emotional power of the music and still managing eye-catching lifts and pirouettes and a striking final position worthy of ballet.”

As a whole, it was a magnificent exercise in understatement, the brilliance of simplicity, down to the costumes – she in a gossamer, white dress with some sequins from waist to shoulders, he in a white tuxedo shirt and black pants. Even in their most powerful moments of that program, what you remember is not the difficulty of the moves but the positions of their arms and bodies, of two people expressing themselves as one.

Then there was the Latin-themed short dance in 2018, an apparently incompatible mash up of “Sympathy for the Devil,” “Hotel California,” and “Oye Como Va.” Virtue and Moir made it a stunningly seamless integration of the very different music by the Rolling Stones, the Eagles and Santana, performing with so much emotional and physical energy, such sassy body heat and such finesse that their scores would allow them to take gold despite losing the free dance.

“I think Tessa and Scott have such a vast range of body of work, it’s possible for every fan and every skating person to find some program they love,” said Carol Lane, a longtime ice dance coach and Canadian TV commentator. “My favorite thing is a short dance to ‘Tears on My Pillow.’”

Virtue and Moir did that in 2004, when she was 14 years old and he 16, when they were still rising through juniors after seven years skating together.

They would compete together over a span of 21 years, so long that they would have two sets of formidable major rivals at the senior level – Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States until 2014; Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France after that. Coincidentally, Virtue and Moir trained in the same rink under the same coaches with first the U.S. team and then the French team while they were competing against each for Olympic and world titles.

The Canadians beat Davis and White for gold in 2010, lost to them in 2014, then beat Papadakis and Cizeron for gold in 2018. The three couples won nine of the past 10 world titles – three by Virtue and Moir, who skated in just five of those 10.

“Think back to Vancouver, the acrobatics they brought, the level of technical difficulty they brought … it was unheard of,” NBC Sports analyst and 2006 Olympic ice dance silver medalist Tanith White said. “Now [the 2018 Olympics] to see them incorporate back in the element of dance – it sounds silly, to put dance in ice dance – to bring in that musicality, that flexibility in their movement. That truly set it apart from anything anyone else is doing.”

*It only seems that Virtue and Moir rolled easily from one triumph to another during their careers.

Their move from Canada and Canadian coaches to suburban Detroit to train with demanding Russian émigrés Shpilband and Marina Zoueva in summer 2004 was fraught with teenage angst (she was 15, he 17) in an atmosphere Moir would describe as cold in a 2015 TED talk. From 2008 through 2010, Virtue battled compartment syndrome that would require surgery in each of those years and severely curtailed her training immediately before their first Olympics.

And then there was the comeback after a two-year hiatus following the 2014 Olympics.

“We would be lying if we said we were just coming back to be part of the pack,” Moir said when they announced the return. “That’s definitely not the goal.”

The goal was to challenge Papadakis and Cizeron, who had used the Canadians’ absence to establish themselves as the world’s dominant ice dance team with world titles in 2015 and 2016. Despite losing the free dance, they beat the French for the 2017 World title, but just three months before the 2018 Olympics, the French beat Virtue and Moir in both programs at the Grand Prix Final.

It was just another challenge for them to overcome, even if it involved near complete revision before the Olympics of their free dance program to “Moulin Rouge.” The improvements were enough to cut the free dance point gap with the French in half from the Grand Prix Final to the Olympics. That was the difference between silver and gold.

“They are a team that has always gone for it,” said U.S. Olympic ice dancer Madison Hubbell, who trained with Virtue and Moir from 2016 to 2018. “They never seem to play it safe with their elements, with how difficult they make their programs. They always want to be better and they don’t compare themselves with other teams.”

The record books tell us Virtue and Moir had unsurpassed success. They slipped away quietly from the sport in which they are among the greatest ever. Their incomparable skating already has passed the test of time.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Tessa Virtue, Scott Moir retire from ice dance competition

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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