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December 6, 2009

Jo-Ann Barnas

Canton team makes major breakthrough

Free Press Sports Writer

That Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the ISU Grand Prix Final on Friday despite placing second in the free dance bodes well for the future of the ice dance team as it prepares for next month's U.S. Championships.

Davis and White, who grew up in Oakland County and train at the Arctic Edge Arena in Canton, achieved personal-best scores in the original dance (65.80) and free dance (103.64) on their way to becoming the first American team to win the ISU Grand Prix Final.

Their explosive "Phantom of the Opera" free dance placed second to the ballroom elegance of two-time Canadian world medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's "Symphony No. 5," so Davis and White left Japan knowing their program has room for improvement.

Say what you want about the alphabet soup of the new scoring system (we're in its sixth season and my head is still spinning), the one positive thing it has done over the former 6.0 judging system is help keep ice dancing's nose clean in the accountability department.

Under the new system (remember, it was instituted after the pairs controversy at the 2002 Winter Games), each element is given a point value based on difficulty. What that means is that Davis and White will resume training in Canton this week with clear-cut information from the judges instead of guessing what needs to improve.

For instance, their free dance at the Final received three Level 3's (Level 4 is the highest) -- for their combination spin, synchronized twizzles and diagonal step sequence. Clean that up, and Davis and White's score has the possibility to increase even more.

For those of you who think Davis and White's victory shouldn't be taken too seriously because the reigning world gold and silver medalists (Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin of Russia, and five-time U.S. champs Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto) weren't in the field, I don't buy that.

Davis and White are the real deal.

The team -- as well as Virtue and Moir, who train with Davis and White in Canton with coaches Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva -- have proved throughout the season by their scores just how competitive they'll be at the Olympics in February in Vancouver.

It's interesting to note that two of the three ice dance medalists from the 2005 ISU Grand Prix Final won medals in the exact order two months later at the 2006 Torino Olympics: gold medalists Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov of Russia, and silver medalists Belbin and Agosto.


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