Detroit Free Press article about D/W and V/M

U.S., Canadian dancers who train in Canton are top contenders, friends

BY JO-ANN BARNAS
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER

VANCOUVER, British Columbia -- Of the 27 medals that have been awarded in ice dance since it became an Olympic sport in 1976, only three have been won by North American teams:

• A bronze in 1976 by Americans Colleen O'Connor and Jim Millns.

• A bronze in 1988 by Canadians Tracy Wilson and Robert McCall.

• A silver in 2006 by Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.

The silver by Belbin and Agosto almost didn't happen. Belbin, from Ontario, received her U.S. citizenship in late December 2005, just meeting the deadline. The couple trained then at the Arctic Figure Skating Club in Canton, and when it won the silver, it sent a message to Russia and other European nations that North America could compete with them now.

A lot has happened in ice dance since Belbin and Agosto's silver medal in Italy. Inspired by their performance, other North American teams have come on strong and improved the past four years -- notably, two-time world medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, and two-time U.S. champs Meryl Davis and Charlie White. Those teams train together in Canton and are great friends.

Tonight, it will begin to sort itself out, when the ice dancing kicks off with the compulsory dance -- the Tango Romantica -- at the Pacific Coliseum.

The Russians still are top contenders, as are the French and Italians. But now, they have to contend with a trio of North American teams.

It's crowded at the top.

Good rivals, best friends

The Olympic ice dance competition begins tonight with the compulsory dance, the first stage of what's expected to become one of the most intriguing events of the Winter Games. Among the story lines -- and there are many in this oft-controversial and drama-filled discipline -- is the battle for North American supremacy, with no fewer than three teams that could figure in the gold-medal mix by Monday's free-dance final. Two -- Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White -- are their nation's current national champions. But their similarities don't end there: They share the same coaches (Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva) and train at the same rink (the Arctic Edge Arena in Canton). The teams also are best buds. The Free Press talked to Virtue and Moir, and Davis and White, as they took a break from a recent practice. With a tape recorder rolling, they were happy to talk about their friendship.

Charlie to Scott: We've known each other since -- when? -- that competition in Vienna, right?

Scott: No, we knew you before then, because we did that North American Challenge.

Meryl: (laughing) Yeah, we were always last and second to last.

Scott: Our first North American Challenge, I think, we were third and you won, right? In Chicago, wasn't it?

Charlie: No, that was our first ...

Scott: Oh, yes, you won! So the plot thickens. It seems like every international that we did when we were, like, 12 and 13, we were competing against each other. But we weren't friends until junior worlds (in 2004), when I squirted you with the water.

Charlie: That's true! Our first real "encounter" with each other: Scott had just gotten off the practice ice at junior worlds, and he was standing there with his water bottle. I was walking past him out of the rink, and he went like this (motioning), to pretend to squirt me in the face, but the top wasn't on right on the bottle, and it came off and I was splashed in the face with all this water.

I was like, "Why would you do that?"

(Laughter)

Scott: After that, the friendship just fell into place.

Meryl: It wasn't really until we were training in the same facility here in Canton that we actually became friends. We're the same age, and we had a lot of the same similarities and stuff, but we never really got to know each other until we were all training here together.

Tessa: This is our sixth season here (in Canton), I think.

Scott: Yeah. We tagged along.

(Laughter)

Tessa: When you see the four of us interact, it's pretty clear that we're close friends. Sure, everyone wants to win, that's why you compete -- we all go out there to win. But it's best if we both skate well, and not a day goes by that we come into the rink and are not so grateful to have Meryl and Charlie because we see our closest competitors every day. We see how hard they're working.

It's so motivating, and we're on this journey together. I mean, not many people understand what we're going through. We can talk. We can go for coffee on the breaks. We can joke around when we're on the ice, and then when we get to a competition, it's that's much better because, well, it feels just like home.

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