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Canadian Ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir settle for silver in Sochi

Ice dance silver medallists Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir pose with the Canadian flag during flowers ceremony at the Sochi Winter Olympics Monday, February 17, 2014 in Sochi. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

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Ice dance silver medallists Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir pose with the Canadian flag during flowers ceremony at the Sochi Winter Olympics Monday, February 17, 2014 in Sochi. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson

SOCHI, Russia - With four minutes left of their 17-year career, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir wrapped each other in a long embrace and tried not to think about the end.

The ice dancers who captured Canada's heart when they won gold in Vancouver wound up with silver at the Sochi Olympics on Monday, and in the moments after they struck their final pose, the enormity of the moment began to sink in.

"That's somewhere in the back of our minds and I tried to push that out while I was competing so I wasn't really focused on 'This is the last time I do anything,'" Moir said, Virtue biting her lip and fighting back tears. "But in the kiss-and-cry it was special. We were able to look at each other and reflect on 17 years. And what a journey we've had. We're lucky kids."

A night after their low short dance score sparked outrage among Canadian figure skating fans, Virtue and Moir laid down a virtually flaw free dance, scoring a total 190.99. But it still wasn't enough to top American rivals and training mates Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who finished with 195.52.

Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia won bronze. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Waterloo, Ont., were seventh, while Alexandra Paul of Midhurst, Ont., and Mitchell Islam of Barrie, Ont., were 18th.

Virtue and Moir are expected to retire after Sochi and two hours after they'd competed Monday night, Moir was scooting along the ice in his running shoes in a darkened, near-empty arena. He lingered long, bending down on one knee and touching the Olympic rings before leaning over to kiss them.

Virtue and Moir were crisp and elegant in their skate to "The Seasons" by Russian composer Alexander Glazunov, Virtue dressed in a gauzy pale pink dress, her hair piled up in a loose bun, and Moir looking smart and understated in black slacks and navy blue shirt.

Their families sat together in one section of the Iceberg Skating Palace, one of Moir's brothers dabbing at tears when they took the ice.

"Those boys eh? They're softies," Moir said, chuckling about his older brothers Danny and Charlie.

Moir said he learned a few months ago not to let the emotions of knowing this was their final season together overwhelm him.

"We just wanted to enjoy absolutely every moment and when I competed at Skate Canada (in October) I thought to myself 'This is the last time I'm going to skate at an international (event) in front of a Canadian audience' and it got to me. It affected my performance," Moir said. "Luckily I was able to focus on my job here.

"Now it's hitting us."

The 24-year-old Virtue and Moir, 26, have been partners since Virtue was just seven and Moir was nine. They grew up a 15-minute drive from one another, Virtue in London, Ont., and Moir in Ilderton.

They considered retiring after Vancouver, where they became the youngest Olympic ice dance champions. They knew trying to defend their title was a risk.

"That's something we didn't want to shy away from, as competitors we embrace that challenge, and I think that's really what sport's all about," Virtue said. "We still had that passion, we had that fire, no one said it was going to be easy."

But sitting in the post-competition press conference, relaxed and laughing with Davis and White, Moir said the pressure and the weight of expectations had been immense.

"I think there is relief. It has been a journey to get here from 2010," Moir said. "There's a lot of sleepless nights that go into an Olympic Games and I think the older and wiser you get, the less sleep you get as well, and I feel like 'God, if I could only be that 22-year-old in Vancouver and just kind of had our dreams come true.'

"It was tough and we enjoyed and learned a lot of lessons along the way, and now you are seeing a lot of relief. It's been a fierce rivalry between the four of us, and now the pressures of this game are kind of melting away."

Virtue and Moir trailed the Americans by 2.56 points after Sunday's short dance, the wide point spread sparking a flurry of outrage on social media.

Even Petri Kokko, one of the creators of the Finnstep — the element the Canadians lost crucial marks on Sunday — tweeted "I don't understand the judging in #icedancing. @Virtue_Moir should be leading in my honest opinion."

Virtue and Moir purposely tuned out the controversy. They hadn't been on the Internet, and weren't even checking their cellphones.

"Sometimes it's those comments (from Kokko) and that support that hold greater weight and we really appreciate that and we know that the people whose opinion we value weigh in and that's who we'll listen to," Virtue said.

Virtue and Moir — two-time world champions — have trained with Davis and White in Canton, Mich., for the past eight years, and share a coach in Russian Marina Zoueva. Between them, the two North American teams have captured every international ice dance title since Virtue and Moir won Olympic gold four years ago in Vancouver. Davis and White are also expected to retire.

"Seeing each other, learning from each other, we learned so much from Tessa and Scott," Davis said. "And just our ability to train alongside each other on a daily basis, has not only been what brought the two teams to the top but what's been pushing us since 2006."

The gold and silver medallists were asked whether they would still be friends 50 years from now.

White said he and Moir "would be playing hockey together for sure."

"We're linked forever," White said. "These moments, all of the moments have brought us together and will keep us together forever."

"It's not likely we'll be calling each other every day," Virtue said jokingly. "But I know when we see one another it will be like picking up from where we left off. This is a really special thing to have experienced together and that will keep us forever bonded."

Ice dancing had previously been dominated by Russians, with just three non-Russian winners in the 10 Olympics its been contested.

Virtue and Moir said the two North American teams were lucky to come up under the new judging system that was implemented in 2004 after the Salt Lake Olympic judging scandal.

"I think it does give ice dance more credibility," Moir said. "I think you're seeing a more athletic sport, and that's something we're extremely proud of."

Weaver and Poje, who've long skated in their Canadian teammates' shadows, said the legacy Virtue and Moir leave behind is immeasurable.

"They've done monumental things for the sport," Poje said. "They changed the face of ice dancing, they've transitioned it through just a theatrical sport to a sport with theatrics on top of it. It's just amazing how they've developed it."

A night after some surprisingly low marks for Weaver and Poje in the short dance, they skated a virtually flawless tango Monday.

"We're thrilled with the way the free dance went, it was the perfect cap to this competition," Weaver said. "It was just a moment in time for us that we'll always remember."

The silver was Virtue and Moir's second of these Games and third for Canada's figure skating team. Virtue and Moir were part of the Canadian squad that finished second in the inaugural team event, and Patrick Chan won silver in men's singles.

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