2008 pre-Cup of Russia article

www.freep.com

November 19, 2008
Meryl Davis, Charlie White ready for challenge at Cup of Russia

BY JO-ANN BARNAS
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
When Meryl Davis and Charlie White returned to Canton last month after winning the gold medal at Skate Canada, the ice dance teammates did what their coach expected them to do.
They searched every possible nook and cranny in their programs, looking for ways to get better.
Davis and White, the defending U.S. silver medalists who train at the Arctic Figure Skating Club, scored 178.89 total points in capturing their first senior Grand Prix title. Although they dominated each phase of the event -- sweeping the compulsory, original dance and free dance -- Davis and White knew there was room for improvement.

"Although they did extremely well for their first competition of the year, a lot of things were not perfect, and they knew it," said Igor Shpilband, the couple's coach. "Not all levels were achieved. Like the last lift in the free dance was (scored) a level one. They had a difficult entrance into it, but they didn't complete the revolutions. Now we made the entrance into it a little bit different, and they're doing more revolutions."

The bottom line? Look for Davis and White to deliver a more polished and dynamic series of dances at Cup of Russia in Moscow. Their competition starts Friday.

Should they win a medal there, Davis and White -- who were sixth at the world championships in March -- almost assuredly would earn a berth into their first Grand Prix Final next month in South Korea. The couple is sixth in the standings with 15 points (for winning Skate Canada).

Unlike Skate Canada, though, Davis and White will face a strong field in Moscow, led by Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, who scored a Grand Prix-leading 186.77 points two weeks ago in capturing gold at Cup of China. Domnina and Shabalin, who withdrew from worlds last season because of an injury, have been training since July in Aston, Pa., with former Arctic FSC skaters and 2006 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.

Another formidable Russian team, Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski, also will be competing at Cup of Russia. Though Khokhlova and Novitski are behind Davis and White in the Grand Prix standings, the team scored more points in taking third at Cup of China (179.50) than Davis and White did in winning Skate Canada.

Still, Shpilband has nothing but confidence in his team.

"Skating in Russia against Russian teams won't be easy," Shpilband said. "But I think (Davis and White) are capable of overtaking both Russian teams. I think they have it in them for it to happen, but whether it will happen in Russia or not, I don't know. But that's what makes competition exciting. Charlie and Meryl have more technique, more difficulty."

Shpilband said he has been encouraged by the focus that both Davis and White, students at the University of Michigan, have shown this season -- especially considering that the Canton rink has seen its share of distractions, with the departure of Belbin and Agosto and an injury suffered by Tessa Virtue.

Virtue and partner Scott Moir are the reigning world silver medalists from Canada who withdrew from their Grand Prix assignments after Virtue had surgery on her leg in September.

"I feel, this year, that Meryl and Charlie have been more motivated than they've ever been," Shpilband said. "They have a lot of confidence in themselves."

Contact JO-ANN BARNAS at 313-222-2037 or jbarnas@freepress.com.

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