US ice dancers Davis-White step into lead roles

Great quotes from Meryl and Charlie!

By BARRY WILNER AP Sports Writer. Original article

NEW YORK(AP)—Ice dancing once was the ugly stepchild of figure skating, so scorned that there was discussion of dropping it from the Olympics.

Now, particularly after the sensational showings by the Canadians and Americans at the Vancouver Games, skating fans are clamoring for more.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White are ready to give it to them.

“I think ice dancing now is making people feel good when they watch it,” Davis says. “They relate to what we are doing on the ice, to the stories we are telling, and they see more of the intricacies we can do with the lifts and the spins. As (coach Marina Zoueva) says, you have to make people feel something. You want people to be moved by it.”

Movement in ice dancing was glacial for decades under the 6.0 scoring system. The old joke was that the final standings could be printed up before the compulsory dance music began to play.

But since the new points system for judging was instituted after the pairs scandal at the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, the glaciers have melted into rolling rapids. Never was that more apparent than when Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the leaders of the United States’ rise in the sport, skated off with silver medals at the Turin Games four years ago.

That success was punctuated when North America pretty much dominated at Vancouver. Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won gold ahead of Davis and White, their training partners and close friends. Belbin and Agosto finished fourth.

Virtue and Moir also won the world title last month, edging Davis and White. Suddenly, the days of Russians sweeping the medals are over.

More significantly, the people in the stands are becoming enamored of ice dancing. So is television; Belbin and Agosto did commentary for the world championships, and Agosto says they “were amazed at how much was on TV. No more just showing the top three couples.”

What caused such a shift?

Two key factors are the new judging formula that emphasizes all technical and artistic elements of the sport, and a loosening of the restrictions on what the skaters can do. The great Torvill and Dean stretched the limits of ice dancing back in the 1980s, but that caused a backlash that lasted through nearly another generation of skaters before more freedom was allowed.

“It’s exciting to be with the other ice dancers who are willing to and working to move the sport ahead,” Davis says. “We want to take it to another level, and we’re fortunate to be skating at a time when that’s possible.”

Adds White: “We’re not plateauing. We’re young (she’s 23, he’s 22) and talented, and we have a long way to go in the sport. And it’s certainly not just the Americans or the Canadians. We watch all the teams bringing new things and it can become a different type of sport. We’re not standing alone.”

For decades, U.S. ice dancers did stand alone. Such outstanding couples as Susan Wynne and Joe Druar, Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow, and Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev dominated American skating, but couldn’t dance their way onto the medals podium at Olympics or world championships.

“We’d watch Liz and Jerod and see all the things they did and be amazed,” Davis says. “But they couldn’t make that breakthrough.”

It took Belbin and Agosto to crack the ice, and just a few years later the United States has become a power in ice dancing on junior and senior levels.

“You don’t hear that old saying anymore, ‘If you can’t skate singles, you do pairs. If you can’t do pairs, you do ice dance.’ Now, we meet so many young skaters who tell us, ‘We went into ice dance after watching you guys,’ ” Agosto says.

“And the sky really is the limit,” Belbin adds. “The depth in the younger ranks is staggering. We used to see so few really good couples at nationals, and now it’s strong from top to bottom.”

Indeed, Igor Shpilband, who coaches this year’s Olympic gold and silver medalists in Canton, Mich., marveled at the skills of novice ice dancers at this year’s national championships.

So trailblazers Belbin and Agosto are leaving the sport in very good hands.

“I love what dance has become, both in our country and everywhere,” Belbin says. “It was thrilling to watch the Vancouver performances.

“The toughest part is keeping up with the evolution of ice dancing. We have been one of the couples in the top five through the years that it has changed, both in the requirements and the scoring, and it’s been a real challenge to keep up with it. It’s been very satisfying to us to be able to do that and to have people recognize that.

“Meryl and Charlie will keep that going on.”

Once - and not very long ago - being the leaders of U.S. ice dancing would not have been such an imposing role. T and B changed that, and now Marlie (as Davis and White are called within skating circles), will carry that burden.

Well, not exactly a burden, the two-time U.S. champs say. More like a privilege.

“What we’ve done in the last two years has certainly given us confidence and showed us how much we can handle and how far we can go,” White says.

“We see ourselves in a different light,” Davis adds. “A lot of people see us as experts, but we’re still very young and we see ourselves on the brink of our career. There are a lot of places we want to go and want to take ice dancing with us. We want to explore so much.”

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