Compelling Competition




Plymouth Canton Sports News - Read Full Story Here



BY ED WRIGHT

Dec. 26, 2009, 7 p.m
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"There's a good chance you've crossed paths with one of them at a local convenience store, or sat in the booth across the aisle from them at a south Canton restaurant.

You may have executed a double-take in their direction while they were practicing their unique talents at Canton's Arctic Edge ice arena, thinking to yourself, "Wow, they're good!", not knowing how good they really are.

You may have been in the company of four of the most prolific ice dancers in the world without even realizing it -- because if you live in Plymouth or Canton, Meryl Davis, Charlie White, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir train in your own back yard, so to speak."

The foursome -- Davis and White skate for the United States; Virtue and Moir for Canada -- routinely put in 40-plus-hour weeks at Canton's Arctic Edge, the state-of-the-art Michigan Ave. facility that gained international fame in 2006 when Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto captured a silver medal at the XX Olympic Winter Games in Turin, Italy.

Belbin and Agosto have since moved on to train in Aston, Pa., but their departure hasn't left a void.

With the XXI Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver, B.C. less than two months away, the Davis-White, Virtue-Moir teams are ranked No. 1 and No. 3, respectively, in the world, so it wouldn't be a huge surprise if the training partners shared space on the medal stand on Feb. 22, the night of the ice-dance finals.

"Both of the teams have had great seasons," said Igor Shpilband, who coaches the skaters along with Marina Zoueva. "They've definitely raised the bar as far as the level of their competition compared to previous years.

"Based on the scores they've been putting up, they're not chasing other teams -- they're being chased."

N'ICE' FRIENDSHIP
The fact that the teams train at the same facility with the same coaches will make for a compelling storyline once the Olympic ice-dancing competition commences on Feb. 19.

With the Belbin-Agosto duo also in the mix, the event is sure to be must-see, edge-of-your-seat TV for millions of people around the world -- regardless of whether you can tell the difference between a Choctaw turn and a camel spin.

"It's unique to have such a great friendship with two of our biggest competitors," noted Virtue. "We've followed pretty much the same path as Charlie and Meryl the past several years, so it's nice to have other people right there every day who understand what we're going through."

"Having Scott and Tessa training with us has really enhanced our experience," Davis agreed. "They're our main competition -- along with Tanith and Ben and a few other teams
-- but we're all great friends. We get along well."

PRACTICALLY NEIGHBORS
Davis, who grew up in West Bloomfield, and White, a native of Bloomfield Hills, started building on- and off-ice chemistry about the same time they were learning how to spell the word.

"We skated at the same rink growing up, so we've known each other for a long time," said the 22-year-old Davis. "When we were about 8 or 9, Charlie's coach at the time wanted to find a dance partner for him and since I was there already and we were the right height for each other, we hooked up."

"We were very fortunate to have a lot of people around us who were very supportive," said White, also 22. "I think the chemistry developed quickly because we were so young and we really didn't have a lot of other things to worry about."

Like all world-class athletes, Davis and White have had to make sacrifices ("Sleeping in would probably be No. 1," Davis said, laughing), but not as many as most of their peers.

"Charlie and I have been fortunate in that we haven't had to go to a lot of extremes like a lot of other skaters," Davis said. "We didn't have to move across the country or leave our families. We've attended public schools.

"Our social lives have been affected to a certain extent. The path we've taken isn't the normal path young people take. We've definitely made sacrifices, but we wouldn't trade what we're doing for anything."

DEDICATED DUO
The pair train together on the ice roughly 20 hours a week. They also spend several hours a week enhancing their out-of-skates fitness, much of the time at Velocity Sports Performance, which is located in the upper level of the Arctic Edge.

Given their lofty ranking, will Davis and White be satisfied with anything short of a medal at February's Olympic Games?

"It's tough because after all the time we've put into this, you really, really want a medal," acknowledged White. "But if we go out there and skate our best and know that we left it all on the ice, you can only be so disappointed if you don't win something."

Spend 20 minutes with Davis and White, and you'll find that their friendship is deep and rich. They smile easily at each other's quips and seem to share a common bond that won't be broken, medal or not.

That said, the spectacular skaters don't spend a ton of their away-from-the-rink time together.

"Free time? What's that?" Davis joked, smiling. "We'll hang out together during the off-season, but -- and I know Charlie would agree with this -- it's not like when I do have some free time, I'm thinking, 'Geez, I wish I could spend some more time with Charlie."

White nodded, smiling.

INSTANT KARMA
Like Davis and White, Virtue and Moir began synchronizing their skating moves during their elementary-school years. Both natives of London, Ont. (Moir was raised in Ilderton, Ont.), the two became one on ice when Moir was 9 and Virtue was 7.

"When we were young, we took it one year at a time," said Virtue, reflecting back on the early years with Moir. "Our thinking was that as long as we were having fun and we enjoyed skating with each other, we'd keep going. That was almost 14 years ago.

"When I was 13 and Scott was 15, we moved to Waterloo (Ont.) to train. That was a big step because it meant we were going to take it more seriously and we knew skating is what we wanted to do."

The pair started training at the Arctic Edge six years ago.

"We love it here," emphasized Virtue. "We're not far from where we grew up and we have world-class coaches. Igor and Marina have become such big parts of our lives."

"Igor and Marina are the best coaches in the world as far as I'm concerned," Moir said. "And the Arctic Edge is a great place to train because it has everything we need right here. It's like our own little bubble.

"I love going home, but it can get a little overwhelming because everybody wants to talk about the Olympics every second because Canada is the host country and they're excited for us."

The duo seem to be peaking at the right time. In November, they won the gold medal at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating.

An admitted "adrenaline junkie," Moir said he has to temper his competitive juices during tournaments.

"I get really excited before we go to the rink (for competitions), but once I'm there, I find that I have to calm myself down," he said. "If I get too excited, I'll be more prone to make the one little mistake that could cost us. My adrenaline edge is always there; I've just learned how to manage it."

"I'm a little more reserved off the ice than Scott is," Virtue said. "Once we step on the ice, I really feel the support of the crowd. And I like skating under pressure. The bigger the event, the better I skate."

If everything works as planned, and Virtue and Moir are standing on the top level of the medal stand Feb. 22 with "Oh, Canada" piping through the Vancouver Olympic Centre's sound system, can they visualize the emotions they'll probably be feeling?

"Oh, yeah," Moir said. "I got emotional watching the qualifying for Canada's curling team, so I can only imagine how emotional I'd get if we're fortunate to win a gold medal. But we have a long way to go and a lot of work still ahead of us."

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