Meryl Davis, Charlie White make U.S. history at worlds as Canton teams sweep in ice dance

April 30, 2011

Meryl Davis, Charlie White make U.S. history at worlds as Canton teams sweep in ice dance

BY JO-ANN BARNAS
DETROIT FREE PRESS SPORTS WRITER
The three couples squeezed together for a team photo on the tallest podium, medals dangling from their necks, bouquets of spring flowers cradled in their arms.
It was a big moment for Canton, but a bigger achievement for figure skating in the United States.

For the first time since ice dance became a medal sport at the World Figure Skating Championships in 1952, an American team won the gold medal.

That team was Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the reigning Olympic silver medalists, who grew up in the Detroit area and train at the Arctic Figure Skating Club in Canton.

In a thrilling competition Saturday in Moscow — watched live by the Free Press on universalsports.com — the three-time U.S. champions won the free dance with a technically brilliant and passionate Argentine tango to dethrone the 2010 Olympic champions and defending world gold medalists, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada.

“It’s soaking in right now what we’ve just accomplished,” White, 23, said by phone Saturday from Moscow. “It’s a testament to the dedication that Meryl and I put into the sport. When we were put together, we were 8-and 9-years old, and we were just hoping to do well in juvenile. This is a real good feeling.”

Davis and White, who trailed the Canadians by 0.53 after the short dance, earned 111.51 points for their free dance to push their total score to 185.27 — 3.48 more than Virtue and Moir (181.79).

The two teams — rivals on the ice, close friends off it — were joined on the podium by their Arctic FSC teammates, U.S. silver medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani, who captured the bronze medal in their debut at senior worlds. The Shibutani siblings — Maia is 16 and Alex just turned 20 — clinched the medal by 0.25 over fourth-place Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France, who fell during their performance.

It was a remarkable sweep for the Canton group and the coaching crew led by Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva. But it was also a groundbreaking moment for ice dance in the U.S. and Canada: A year after winning gold and silver for the first time at the Vancouver Games, North American teams did one better at the world championships and captured all three medals.

The last time the U.S. had two teams on the podium was 1966 when it won the silver and bronze.

At the 2010 worlds in Torino, Italy, Davis and White won the silver medal behind Virtue and Moir.

“Maia and I are so happy, but what makes it really special is owning the podium for Marina and Igor,” Alex Shibutani said.

Moir said: “We’re going to have some good pictures this year for the rink.”

Earlier in the day, U.S. ladies champion Alissa Czisny of the Detroit Skating Club placed fifth in the ladies event. She would have contended for a medal had she not fallen on a triple lutz to start her long program. Miki Ando of Japan won the gold medal, ahead of Olympic ladies champion Kim Yu-na of Korea.

After watching the two U.S. flags and one Canadian being lifted together to the rafters at the Megasport Arena, Shpilband called the moment “amazing and moving to see.”

He added, “In many ways, a dream come true.”

Zoueva said: “We are very proud. We’re very happy it happened in Russia. We build a bridge between Russia and North America.”

Zoueva and Shpilband were both born in Russia. Zoueva holds dual citizenship with Canada; Shpilband, who defected to the United States from the former Soviet Union in 1990, became a U.S. citizen 11 years ago. Shpilband started his coaching career at the Detroit Skating Club, — where Davis and White got their start — and moved to the Arctic Edge Arena in 2003 with Zoueva to create their own ice dance program.

Entering the competition in Moscow, Shpilband-Zoueva coached teams had won eight world medals between 2005 and 2010, beginning with Americans Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto’s silver medal at the 2005 worlds in Moscow.

The finish marked the beginning of the end of Russia’s and Europe’s domination in the sport.
Saturday, Davis and White knew what they had to do the moment Virtue and Moir — competing in their first full event since the 2010 worlds (Virtue had surgery on her shins last fall) — stepped off the ice after their steamy free dance.

“It was one of those things we left unsaid,” White said. “We knew we had an opportunity to make it a special program, and we had all the confidence in each other.”

Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, Canadian silver medalists who train at the Detroit Skating Club, turned in a strong performance that lifted them from seventh to fifth overall with 160.32 points. Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein of the Arctic FSC, who were also making their senior world debut, delivered a highly entertaining free dance that was ranked seventh-best but remained ninth overall (151.86).

Chock was so pleased with their skate that the monitor in the Kiss & Cry showed her leaving a bright red lipstick smooch on Zuerlein’s face. It was a big day for the U.S. bronze medalists — they finished ahead of reigning Canadian champs Vanessa Crone and Paul Poirier.

Isabella Tobias and Deividas Stagniunas of Lithuania, who also train at the Arctic Edge Arena, finished 14th overall.

Contact Jo-Ann Barnas: 313-222-2037 or jbarnas@freepress.com

2011 Worlds photos and articles

Congratulations to Meryl and Charlie!!!
2011 World C
hampions!!!