SOCHI, Russia — Another performance like this from Meryl Davis and Charlie White, and the U.S. will finally have an Olympic gold medal in ice dance.
Just as they've done at every competition for the last two years, Davis and White handily won the short dance Sunday night, beating rivals and reigning Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
Davis and White's score of 78.89 puts them 2.5 points ahead of the Canadians going into Monday's free dance, a significant margin in a sport where medals can be decided by margins slimmer than a sequin.
"They fly," said their coach, Marina Zoueva. "You can see at the same time where they're strong and so light and at the same time, so flowing. I didn't see any moment that was forced. I really enjoyed the performances. They really did the best this program can be done, with so much joy."
Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia are third.
RECAP: Relive the short program
The United States has never won an Olympic title in ice dance. In fact, until Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto's silver in 2006, it had been 30 years since a U.S. team had won a medal of any color.
But Davis and White have been regulars at the top of the podium since winning their own silver medal four years ago. They became the first U.S. team to win the world title in 2011, and won another last year.
"I think we were really think we were in the moment enjoying it," Davis said. "I don't think I was ever really thinking about pushing, really, but rather enjoying it and enjoying each other's company out there. So it was really special for us. But we've trained this program so hard and Marina has done such a great job of preparing us both physically and mentally/emotionally for that moment that we can really focus on the performance and letting the skating kind of go for itself."
The other American teams stand eighth and ninth: Madison Chock and Evan Bates followed by siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani.
Since finishing second to the Canadians four years ago in Vancouver, however, Davis and White have been swapping spots atop the podium with Virtue and Moir. They became the first U.S. team to win the world title in dance in 2011, and claimed the crown again last year.
Virtue and Moir won in 2010 and 2012.
But for as close as the rivalry has been, Davis and White have had the edge recently. They haven't lost a competition since the 2012 worlds, beating Virtue and Moir at last year's world championships and the last two Grand Prix finals.
They also won – handily -- the short and free dances in the team competition.
"Unlike at home, when we see Meryl and Charlie every single day, we've been on different practice groups, different warm-ups from them," Virtue said. "So we haven't crossed paths that many times. So it's easy to forget about it because we have so much to focus with our own jobs and our skates."
YUNA KIM: Teammates' biggest hypeman
And it was more of the same Sunday.
In the short dance, teams are required to use the same rhythm – it's the quickstep this year – and do segments of the same pattern dance, the Finnstep. But Davis and White somehow manage to set themselves apart, whether it's the little kicks of her feets while he dips her during their Finnstep segment or the speed with which they fly across the ice.
Their entire program, to a My Fair Lady medley, was smooth and effortless, so much so it was easy to forget they were skating on a sheet of ice and not dancing across a parquet floor. They make incredibly difficult moves look effortless, and their skating skills are so spectacular that coaches around the world raced for the DVR remote. Their deep knees, razor-sharp edge quality and impeccable lines take an athletic performance and turn it into art.
And, oh, those twizzles. The spinning turns are incredibly difficult – think patting your head and rubbing your stomach at the same time – but Davis and White look as if they're joined by invisible strings when they do theirs.
The two looked satisfied, but not ecstatic, when they finished and it's no surprise. They've made no secret that gold is their goal in Sochi, and there is still one more battle with the Canadians left.
Virtue and Moir were beaten soundly in the team competition, and Moir had promised that they would do whatever they had to to close the gap.
Whatever they did, it worked. They were so in sync they looked like mirror images, and they used every inch of the ice surface.
"That was more like it," Moir said. "As I said to Tessa right after we finished, that's the skate that we have been having in practice and to do that on this stage felt pretty good."
But the most impressive part of their dance was their connection. Skating to a medley of Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong songs, the Canadians looked as if they were in an old-time jazz club rather than the Iceberg Skating Palace, trying to hold off closing time for just a bit longer with one last drink and cigarette.
When they finished, Moir was so happy he twirled around in a little dance before bear hugging Virtue and burying his head in her shoulder.
"Yeah, I didn't get the memo on that," Virtue said.
"Sometimes the excitement gets the best of me," Moir said. "I was staying in character."
Their only real flaw was not getting the maximum Level 4s for both of their Finnstep segments, which dropped them more than a point below their season best.
"I thought our levels were better than the team competition," Moir said. "So I have to really see it. It's the slightest little thing."
But with a rivalry this close, it can be the difference between silver and gold.