Michigan Daily article

Four ice dancers dominate at nationals

Katie Field
Daily Sports WriterJanuary 25th, 2009

Four University students skated to the top tiers of the podium at the United States Figure Skating Championships in Cleveland on Saturday afternoon.

Sophomores Meryl Davis and Charlie White won ice-dance gold for their first U.S. senior title, and freshman Emily Samuelson and sophomore Evan Bates glided into the second-place ice dance slot.

Davis and White, who represent Canton’s Arctic Figure Skating Club and the Detroit Figure Skating Club, respectively, secured their victory with a 99.82 point free-dance performance Saturday. They finished the competition with total of 201.68 points.

“We came to nationals really well-prepared,” White said. “We were able to do well out there and not hold back, so we’re really happy.”

With five-time defending champions Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto absent from the Championships due to Agosto's lingering back injury, Davis and White's path to the podium was a little clearer. But the pair still earned their title.

Davis and White won the original dance on Thursday with the 1920's-inspired performance “Happy Feet,” opening up a commanding eight-point lead on the field. On Saturday, the pair came out and extended their advantage with a passion-filled interpretation of “Samson and Delilah” that lit up Quicken Loans Arena.

Long-time friends off of the ice, Davis and White have had a strong presence in the senior ice-dance field ever since their debut three seasons ago. In their 12th year skating together, Davis and White said their long partnership is a major factor in their success. A coaching switch in 2005 to Igor Shpilband – who now has coached 12 of the past 16 U.S. ice-dance champions – has fueled their progression in the sport.

Although their elaborate costumes don't include a block "M," the four skaters aren’t shy about the colors that they support. At the 2008 U.S. Championships, where Davis and White finished second, White held up a Michigan sweatshirt in the kiss-and-cry room as the pair awaited their marks. Davis pointed to the yellow letters emblazoned on the shirt and cheered.

“I definitely feel like wherever I go, I represent the university,” Bates said. “We’re in Cleveland right now, and almost every single day I was wearing a Michigan T-shirt or something. There are so many Ohio State fans here that are giving me a hard time. (Samuelson) and I did a promo that they played on the Jumbotron that was all about how we go to Michigan. We said, ‘Go Blue,’ and the fans started booing us.”

On campus, Davis and White live relatively normal college lives. Davis is a member of Delta Delta Delta sorority. White, who previously helped coach the Michigan women’s synchronized skating team, enjoys living in an off-campus apartment with fellow skaters. At Nationals, White stood atop the podium with his roommate and friend, Bates, next to him on the second tier.

“It’s pretty funny, honestly,” Bates said. “We’re doing press conferences together and we’re laughing through the whole thing. We had to be separated. He’s one of my best friends, so it’s really cool to be going through this experience and to share it with somebody who you’re good buddies with.”

In only their second senior ice-dance season, the Ann Arbor Figure Skating Club’s Samuelson and Bates are relatively new to the sport's highest level. But with a solid 181.64-point finish this weekend, the pair is another step closer to making a name for themselves.

“It’s surreal to be here because this is the place that they were last year,” Samuelson said of Davis and White. “You look up to the people who were here last year and you think, ‘Oh my gosh, they’re such good skaters.’ Now that we are the silver medalists of the United States, we see that we deserve to be here at this level and that we’re great skaters.”

Both pairs learned that they made the U.S. World team Sunday morning. Belbin and Agosto, who received the third spot, will join them in Los Angeles as what is undoubtedly the strongest U.S. World dance team in recent memory. There they will focus on securing the U.S. spots for the 2010 Olympics.


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