You certainly won’t find any sort of sexual tension in the biathlon or short track speedskating events, but there is one Olympic sport that almost requires a romantic narrative: ice dancing.
Ice dancing is a type of figure skating that focuses on form and entertainment compared to typical skating routines, which is more about the tricks themselves. Ice dancing has the intense emotional beauty and intricacies of ballroom dancing combined with the sharp blades and icy thrill of competitive figure skating. It’s basically figure skating’s highly passionate cousin who went to acting school.
The sentimental sport is possibly the only Olympic event where participants not only have to be highly trained athletes, but convincing actors as well. Ice dancing isn’t just showcasing athletic talent, it’s also telling a story. This story is almost always a heteronormative one — a man and a woman with an intense connection.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have been skating partners for the past 20 years. This Winter Olympics, the Canadian pair took the gold in ice dancing after performing an extremely steamy routine set to a Moulin Rouge compilation. Virtue and Moir are entrenched in dating rumors that span most of their career together. They are either master actors who have honed their craft beautifully, or they have actually been banging this whole time. Either or both could be true (though they insist they’re just friends).
This gray area may be what makes the pair not only athletes to be reckoned with, but also a will-they-won’t-they couple with a rabid fan base, reminiscent of reality television stars. In fact, according to Vulture, Virtue and Moir had a reality TV show called “Tessa and Scott” that aired for one season on a Canadian network.
Alex and Maia Shibutani from the United States took bronze. No, they’re not married. They’re siblings, adorably nicknamed the “Shib sibs.” Stars in a sport that values believable sexual tension and romantic connection, the Shib sibs are up against a lot when it comes to creating an engaging story on the ice that doesn’t deal with any romantic themes (they settled on a tame but beautiful routine set to “Paradise” by Coldplay song).
Slate’s Rose Eveleth wanted to know if ice dancing duos got better scores if they’re sex partners. When comparing average free dance scores between romantic and platonic couples, she didn’t find much of a difference. However, when taking away the more unclear pairs, the numbers told a different story.
“I left out those couples who were in a nebulous in-between state—anybody who dated before or after they competed but were not a couple during their competition,” she wrote. “The average free dance score for those odd ducks is higher than that for any other group: 98.86. Perhaps lost love, or latent desire, does actually come across on the ice in these specific scenarios.”
Virtue and Moir have proven that a believable romantic connection can win ice dancing gold. Is this connection truth or just highly rehearsed fiction? That’s for them to know and for us to likely never find out.