Canton article

Warm Reception for Ice Dance Champs Meryl Davis and Charlie White

Davis and White skated to ice-dance gold medal for the ISU World Figure Skating Championship.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White have returned to their training grounds after earning gold at theWorld Figure Skating Championship, and they couldn’t be happier.

The Canton community has embraced its ice dance championship team, back after a whirlwind of competition followed by a vacation.

Davis and White placed first in ice dance at the International Skating Union World Figure Skating Championships in Moscow on April 30. Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir place second and Maia and Alex Shibutani, a brother-sister team, came in third.

This was the first time an American team won the competition and the first time three teams representing North America placed first, second and third. All three teams train at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton and are members of the Arctic Figure Skating Club.

“Canton isn’t really on the map I don’t think for too many things internationally,” White said. “So it’s nice to put it on the map and let people know that it’s a special place.”

Davis said that communication has been coming from all around the world to express happiness for the team and gratefulness too.

“It’s just really special to be able to share this success with all of the people who have really meant a lot to us over the years,” she said. “Our rink definitely has a special bond…getting to experience that success with everybody is just really exciting for all of us.”

Davis and White are both Royal Oak natives who attend school in Ann Arbor. Davis' hometown is West Bloomfield and White hails from Bloomfield Hills, but both are often in Canton.

“The people in the community are just so friendly and so welcoming and so supportive of all of us that it really is a special place,” Davis said “It’s a community that I think is very happy to support other people’s success.”

The amount of time spent training together in Canton has not only bonded the team tighter, but bonded the skaters to the community also.

“We’ve been closely tied to the Canton community for a while now,” White said. “The support for figure skating is tremendous.”

The welcome home has come not only from Canton, but the entire Detroit area. Davis and White said they were honored to throw out the first pitch at Tuesday's Tigers game.

“They celebrate us all as their own,” Davis said. “It’s a wonderful thing.”

White said that throwing out the pitch was a great feeling. The reaction they got from Tigers fans made the moment even more special.

“I think everyone from the Detroit area is always really proud of the hometown athletes that are able to represent the area well,” White said. “It was great … we got a really warm reception.”

Craig O’Neill, manager of the Arctic Edge Ice Arena, couldn’t say he was all that surprised by the teams’ results at the competition. He sees how hard they train every day. But seeing all three medalists team come from his rink was amazing.

“It’s crazy, it’s unbelievable,” O’Neill said. “I think that probably anybody that lives in Canton … if they know anything about figure skating, they probably get shivers down their spine.”

Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband coach all three of the medalist teams. Zoueva was also not surprised by White and Davis win. She said the team's performance could not have gone better.

“For me it’s not like a big surprise,” Zoueva said. “I always thought if they skate well it’s possible.”

The confidence that Zoueva has in her athletes is mirrored by the admiration that the athletes have for their coaches.

“I think it’s a very special thing for Igor and Marina to experience,” Davis said. “I think it’s definitely a testament to how talented they are and how much work they put into our sport and what they contribute to the world of ice dance.”

It takes great coaches to make a championship team, but it also takes hard work, which is what made the victory even sweeter for White.

“We knew that no matter what happened we could be really proud of the effort we put into the season and how hard we worked,” he said. “Being able to win after that feeling was the best part. The realization that all of your work pays off in the end, that’s really what you work for.”

The duo has been skating together for 15 seasons, a long time considering White is 23 and Davis is 24. They have been training at Arctic Edge for six seasons now, all of them with Shpilband and Zoueva.

After the competition, Davis and White both went on vacations, but returned to the area about two weeks ago. Davis said the team is excited to get busy on new routines for the season ahead — a season that both skaters are eager to begin.

“We’re off to a good start that’s for sure,” White said.

Davis said that a plan is in the works for a celebration of the Ice Dancers’ achievements in June. The plan is being put together by Arctic Figure Skating Club, Arctic Edge Ice Arena and Canton Leisure Services. Details will be announced soon.

IceNetwork article on U.S. Ice dance

Below photos from HERE.

Shpilband, Zoueva at forefront of dance revolution

Coaches guide American ice dance teams to the top

By Amy Rosewater, special to

(05/24/2011) - When Meryl Davis and Charlie White step up to the mound for the ceremonial first pitch at the Detroit Tigers-Tampa Bay Rays baseball game Tuesday night, they will be the center of attention.

As they should.

The first Americans to win the world title in ice dancing no doubt deserve the credit and attention that has come their way since they made skating history in Moscow late last month.

But even they admit they couldn't have stepped up to the plate the way they did had it not been for their coaches, Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, the behind-the-scenes orchestrators of the masterful work displayed on the ice.

"I think we're as happy for them as they are for us,'' White said. 'We put our faith in them and they put their faith in us.''

The back story behind this almost-didn't-happen world title is a testament to that mutual faith. Davis and White had cruised through the post-Olympic season almost effortlessly, winning all five of the events they entered leading up to the 2011 World Championships. As they and skaters around the world prepared to compete in worlds in Tokyo, a tsunami and a series of earthquakes devastated Japan in March and put the world championships in jeopardy.

As concerned as Davis and White were about the people in Japan -- and there is no doubt that they were -- they were also dealing with the very real possibility that their chance at a world title could slip away. The skaters continued to train at their rink in Canton, Mich., but their minds were swirling with all sorts of rumors. Would the championships be canceled? Would they be relocated? Would they be held as late as October?

How worried was Shpilband during this time of flux: Very.

"Yes, yes, yes, I was worried,'' Shpilband said. "Very worried. When I heard the ISU was trying to move worlds to October, I was just devastated.''

Ultimately, the world championships were moved to Moscow and they were held in late April, and that's where the story becomes even more intriguing. That's because Moscow is where both Shpilband and Zoueva were born. Shpilband, who competed in ice dancing for the Soviet Union, defected to the United States in 1990. Zoueva, who guided Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov to Olympic gold in the pairs event, wound up immigrating to Canada.

For them to return to Russia, a country which has long dominated ice dancing, with the chance at making American history, was an irony not lost on either Shpilband or Zoueva.

Shpilband had been touring the United States with several other Russian skaters back in 1990 as part of a troupe headlined by Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean. Gorsha Sur, one of the Russian ice dancers, decided to defect, and Shpilband decided to join him. Shpilband and Veronika Pershina did not want anyone to suspect they were going to flee so they left their hotel room with nothing but their video camera and skates.

Shortly afterward, Shpilband was offered a coaching position in Detroit, and there, he literally grew an ice dancing mecca from the ground up.

Among his first students were Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow. Sur recommended Shpilband to them.

"We had no idea who he was,'' said Swallow, who had been training with Sandy Hess in Colorado Springs at the time. "We really only knew that his name was Igor.''

But because Swallow had grown up skating at the Detroit Skating Club and Punsalan had spent some time there as well, they were willing to head to Detroit and meet this unknown Russian coach. Even though Shpilband spoke very broken English, he choreographed two programs for the couple in the spring of 1992, and Punsalan and Swallow enjoyed working with him so much that they returned to Detroit in the summer to have him create their free dance. By the 1993-94 season, Shpilband had become the couple's head coach, and under his guidance, they captured the 1994 national title and they competed in the 1994 Winter Olympic Games in Lillehammer.

Shpilband began grooming other ice dancing teams as well: Jessica Joseph and Charles Butler, Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev, Eve Chalom and Matthew Gates, Jamie Silverstein and Justin Pekarek and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto. In the midst of this time, in 2000, Shpilband became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Five years later, he became the head coach for Davis and White. Zoueva, meanwhile, began working as the team's choreographer the previous year.

Although Shpilband was making incredible strides in the United States, American ice dancing teams still struggled to climb the ranks internationally. The first U.S. ice dancing team to win a medal (bronze) at the Olympic Winter Games was Colleen O'Connor and Jim Millns back in 1976 and it wasn't until 30 years later, when Belbin and Agosto broke through with a silver medal in 2006 that the U.S. made it to the Olympic podium in ice dancing again.

At the beginning of the millennium, the best an American team had fared at the Olympics since 1976 was fourth in 1984 (Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert), sixth in 1988 (Suzanne Semanick and Scott Gregory) and seventh in 1998 (Punsalan and Swallow).

At the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City, the Americans placed 11th and 23rd.

Again, it was Belbin and Agosto who changed things by placing second at worlds in 2005, marking the first time since 1985 that the United States reached the world podium (Blumberg and Siebert placed third that year).

Also, as many skating fans recall, when an ice dancing team was slotted into a ranking, that ranking seemed to stick. Sometimes it lasted for years. Fluctuation was as rare as an uncooked filet mignon.

So, to think that Shpilband and Zoueva were going to break through and build a world championship team seemed possible but fairly unlikely.

"In our generation, I couldn't see this coming,'' Punsalan said. "I always hoped for it, but I knew a lot of things had to come together for it to happen.''

As luck would have it, those things did occur. The Russian era of dominance began to collapse in conjunction with its politics. There was a radical overhaul in the judging system. And in Detroit, ice dancing depth was developing.

In 2005, in Moscow of all places, one of Shpilband's teams finally made it to the medal podium. Belbin and Agosto earned a silver medal at worlds, and the following year, they captured a silver medal at the Olympics in Torino.

By 2010, Shpilband and Zoueva had two teams on the Olympic podium in Vancouver: gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada and silver medalists Davis and White. It was an especially emotional time for Shpilband since he and Frank Carroll became the first figure skating coaches selected to march with the U.S. team in the Opening Ceremony at the Olympics.

As great as the experience was, Shpilband knew he had yet to claim the world crown for a U.S. team, a feat never accomplished before in the sport. Davis and White, who skated a dazzling free dance at the 2009 World Championships to the music of Samson and Delilah and finished fourth, had placed second to Virtue and Moir at the 2010 World Championships.

Davis and White had been training well leading up to the world championships in Moscow, but there are no certainties anymore, and they knew Virtue and Moir were training well, too. They didn't have to look far to notice that. After all, they saw them every day in practice.

And the last time Davis and White had competed in Moscow, the experience wasn't so great.

"It was horrible,'' Davis said as she recalled the experience of 2008 Cup of Russia. "There was a blizzard and we toured the Red Square with our moms and got freezing and soaking wet and then we got lost and we were stopped by police and we didn't have our papers.

"The next day was the [original dance] and it probably was the worst skate we ever had. Actually, it was a disaster.''

It wasn't a total loss. The couple, buoyed by support from the crowd, wound up placing third, but the overall memories were not easily erased.

When the couple found out they were going back to Moscow in search of their first world title, it wasn't exactly welcome news, but Davis and White were relieved they would have a chance to compete at all.

No one knew what to expect at these world championships. Zoueva left a few days before most of her Detroit skaters and said she chatted up her teams with members of the Russian media. In addition to Davis and White, Shpilband and Zoueva had five teams at worlds.

And as it turned out, with little preparation time, Moscow was able to put on a great show. The weather was pleasant, in the seventies most days, and even Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin made an appearance.

Although Davis and White were second behind Virtue and Moir in the short dance, they outskated them in the free dance to win the title with a combined score of 185.27 points. And on April 30, not only did Davis and White win, but also they led a North American sweep of the podium. Virtue and Moir finished second and the American sister-brother team of Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani came in third.

Not lost in the news was that all three teams are coached by Shpilband and Zoueva, and their coaching sweep is believed to be the first at worlds.

"My goal always was and is and will be my choreography,'' said Zoueva, who has been coaching and choreographing since 1982. "If it touches the soul and heart of the audience, that's what it's all about.''

Still, the sweep was sweet.

A few days after returning to the United States, a reporter called Shpilband and began by exchanging a simple pleasantry: How are you?

"I am awesome,'' he said. "Absolutely awesome.''

He spoke in flawless English.

"I was overwhelmed with emotion,'' said Shpilband, whose mother, sister and a cousin attended worlds and whose daughter, Ekaterina, a competitive figure skater, made the trip to Moscow. "It took a couple of days just for it all to sink in.''

Ekaterina got a chance to see where her father grew up and trained and watched him feted in a country from which he fled.

It seemed to Davis and White that just as many people were congratulating them as they were congratulating their coaches.

Back in the United States, the historical nature of the event was not lost. In fact, many in the ice dancing community were gathered for Governing Council meetings in a hotel ballroom outside of Chicago when Davis and White were skating in Moscow. Fortunately, there were a couple of large-screen TVs and live feed from Moscow was piped in.

"A lot of people were there, and we all kind of came together and were high-fiving each other,'' said Swallow, now the skating director at the Detroit Skating Club. "All of us kind of made the comment that we thought it would never happen.''

But it did.

And the main reason it happened was because of the years of work leading up to this point.

"This did not happen overnight,'' said Susie Wynne, a U.S. champion ice dancer who has known Shpilband for years as both a competitor and a TV commentator. "He worked so hard. Igor developed this camp of people, got the people and got the skaters the hours and the ice time. Whenever he needed the resources, he found them. He and Marina certainly put in their time.''

Somehow, Shpilband and Zoueva have been able to achieve all of this success while maintaining some almost abnormal sense of balance within their rink.

"I don't know what the secret is,'' Davis said. "Both of them have tremendous talent and they make sure we're all happy. I think it comes down to loving skating and loving what we do every day. When I started, ice dancing wasn't the most friendly of sports, but I think it's very pleasant here and we're all genuinely supportive of each other and that's a reason why success has been happening in Canton.''

Shpilband and Zoueva aren't about to reveal any of their trade secrets, but they certainly aren't resting on their laurels, either. They will, however, take a brief respite to celebrate their achievements from this past season by honoring Davis and White at the rink on June 21.

But the main focus now is the future. Already, they've been working with Davis and White on some Latin dancing for their routines for next season.

And perhaps in a few years, they will make a return trip to Russia, when the Olympics will be held in Sochi. There's no doubt Shpilband and Zoueva are already contemplating the next step in this American revolution.

First pitch at Detroit Tigers game

Meryl Davis and Charlie White took their teamwork from the ice to the baseball field Tuesday night at Comerica Park.

The figure skaters from Canton -- who last month became the first Americans to win the gold medal in ice dance at the World Figure Skating Championships -- teamed up to deliver one of the ceremonial first pitches before the Tigers' game against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Davis, standing on the pitcher's mound, tossed the ball midway to home plate to a waiting White, who caught it barehanded and turned (no, not twizzled) and pitched it into the glove of Ramon Santiago of the Tigers.

"Going to warm up the mound for him," White joked before his toss, referring to Tigers starter Justin Verlander.

The evening was a nice respite from training for the three-time U.S. champions and 2010 Olympic silver medalists.

Davis and White took just two weeks off after their victory April 30 in Moscow, returning to practice last week.

They spent several days working with professional dancer Elena Grinenko -- who has appeared on "Dancing with the Stars" -- for the Latin short dance they'll compete this fall.

"We've jumped right back into it," White said.

Davis and White's world gold medal capped a remarkable run for Canton's Arctic FSC, as the other two ice dance teams who joined them on the podium in Moscow -- silver medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada and the brother-sister team of Maia and Alex Shibutani of the United States (bronze) -- all train together and share the same primary coaches in Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva.

The Arctic group will be honored by Canton Township on June 21 at Kicker's All Star Grill at Victory Park, located near the Arctic Edge Arena on Michigan Avenue. The public portion of the celebration begins at 6 p.m.

Next week kicks off two busy months of tours and appearances for the world champions. Included on their schedule is skating in two performances for Detroit Skating Club's ice show to benefit the Red Cross and Japan's tsunami relief efforts on June 9-12.

"The response we've gotten from people, especially people we know really well, has been really emotional and personal," Davis said of their world title. "It's like they're part of the victory, too."

For Japan

Congratulatory montage

Thanks Amber!

Re-do of an older montage

Vote: USOC April Team of the Month

Vote Meryl and Charlie for USOC April Team of the Month!

USAToday's Olympic Athletes of the Week

Meryl Davis and Charlie White win gold, earn honor
Ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White won a gold medal at the figure skating world championships. This was the first gold medal awarded to the U.S. in ice dancing. The 2010 Olympic silver medalists beat their friends and rivals, Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, in the free program, skating a tango.

"This is probably the best ska
te we've ever had in our careers. We got to skate, we got to skate after the Olympic champions. To come out and do what we did speaks to our character, to our ambition and to our work ethic," said White. They are USA TODAY's Olympic Athletes of the Week.

2011 Worlds videos


Gala practice

SD press conference

FD press

FD practice

SD Practice

Short Dance practice

Gala performance

Medal Ceremony

Fan video of pre-medal ceremony+medal ceremony

Kiss and Cry interview

Free Dance
Universal Sports (Judy Blumberg commentating)

Post Free Dance interview

Short Dance
Universal Sports (with Judy Blumberg commentating)

Post-Short Dance interview