Freep--Local Olympic ice dancers enjoy popularity

March 21, 2010

Local Olympic ice dancers enjoy popularity

BY JO-ANN BARNAS
FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER

In the three weeks since the Vancouver Winter Olympics, it has been the unexpected -- chance occurrences -- that have surprised Canton's ice dancers most.

Before winning the silver medal with Meryl Davis in ice dance, Charlie White used to drop by Tim Hortons near the Arctic Figure Skating Club in Canton and chat with the staff without drawing attention.

The last time he was there, though, White was approached by a stranger who obviously had watched last month's Olympic ice dance competition.

"I recognized your hair," the man said. "I just want to say, 'Congratulations.' "

For Davis and White, who sports a head full of blond curls, the accolades haven't subsided since their podium finish in Vancouver. A few days ago, White was outside the undergraduate library at the University of Michigan -- where he and Davis are juniors, but have taken this semester off -- when a group of students wandered over.

"Hey, man, congrats on the silver!" one said.

Davis said she was stunned by the response she received recently when she walked into a local restaurant: The diners gave her a round of applause.

"We kind of forgot how many people you don't know had been following the Olympics and felt like they knew us by following our experience," she said. "That's really cool. I mean, walking into a restaurant and having people clap as you walk in? There's so much support in this area."

On Wednesday, Davis spoke to a third-grade class at an elementary school in Ann Arbor. As students passed around her silver medal, she fielded questions.

Among them: "On a scale of one to 10, how nervous were you?" and "Weren't you scared you were going to fall?"

Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who train with Davis and White at the Arctic FSC and share the same coaches (Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva), have become icons in Canada since winning the ice dance gold medal on home ice. They returned to Canton two weeks ago.

"The first couple days we were back, we were trying our hardest to feel human again, to feel like skaters and athletes," Moir said Thursday on a conference call with reporters. "The more I go back and look at pictures, the more I find myself pinching myself and saying, 'Wow. We really are Olympic champions.' "

This week, local Olympians Virtue and Moir, and Davis and White -- along with 11th-place finishers Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates of the Ann Arbor FSC -- will compete at the World Figure Skating Championships that start Tuesday in Turin, Italy. It's the final event of a long season.

Another area Olympian -- two-time U.S. men's champion Jeremy Abbott of the Detroit SC, who was ninth in Vancouver -- also will compete at worlds.

With reigning U.S. silver medalists and 2006 Olympic runners-up Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto skipping worlds (they'll be commentators for Universal Sports at the event), Bates and Samuelson know the importance of their placement: For the U.S. to maintain three spots for next year's worlds, the top-two U.S. ice dance teams' placements can't total more than 13.

"We need to get three spots," Bates said. "I'm sure Meryl and Charlie will be on the podium, and we need to be top nine. I guess the pressure is on."

Davis and White and Samuelson and Bates have indicated they plan to keep competing through the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia.

Virtue and Moir are 20 and 22, but the two-time world medalists said Thursday they haven't decided whether to compete after this season. They plan to discuss their future during the Canadian tour of Stars on Ice that begins next month.

"It's not something at the front of our minds right now," Virtue said.

In Turin, Virtue and Moir will be the first ice dance team since Russians Oksana Grishuk and Evgeny Platov in 1994 to follow up an Olympic title by competing in the world championships the same season.

Grishuk and Platov retired from competitive skating to perform as professionals (with different partners) after repeating as Olympic champions at the 1998 Nagano Games.

Abbott, who moved to Michigan less than a year ago, said he's committed to staying at the Detroit SC, and with coaches Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen, at least through next season.

Asked if his plans include trying for another Olympics, Abbott -- who was ill with a sinus infection in Vancouver -- said he's taking it "year to year."

"I'm feeling a lot better going into worlds than I did in Vancouver," he said. "I really want to end this year with two strong performances."

NOTEBOOK: With so many of the area’s top figure skaters and Olympians already part of it, I wonder if Stars on Ice would consider inviting Samuelson and Bates for a guest appearance for its May 2 date at the Palace? Not only would the tour stop sell a few more tickets, but it would be a nice gesture to recognize Ann Arbor’s hard-working Olympians.

Contact JO-ANN BARNAS: 313-222-2037 or jbarnas@freepress.com. Read more in her Olympics blog at http://www.freep.com/section/blog34" target="top">freep.com/olympicsblog.

Related content

Olympic encore

What: World Figure Skating Championships.

When: Tuesday through Saturday.

Where: Turin, Italy.

TV: Universal Sports (locally on Comcast). Tuesday -- Pairs short program, 4 p.m.

Wednesday -- Men's short, 11 a.m.; pairs free program, 3:30 p.m. Thursday -- Original dance, 10 a.m.; men's free, 4 p.m. Friday -- Ladies short, 11 a.m.; free dance, 4 p.m. Saturday -- Ladies free, 10 a.m.

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