Behind Meryl Davis and Charlie White, U.S. Is Close to Its First Ice Dance Gold
SOCHI, Russia — The ice dance teams train together in suburban Detroit, tossing world titles back and forth like jugglers. One seems certain to win a gold medal after Monday’s free skate.
In Sunday’s short program, Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States moved a step closer — a fox trot and quickstep closer, to be precise — to becoming the first American Olympic champions in dance.
With an elegant, effervescent and athletic performance to music from “My Fair Lady,” Davis and White scored a world-record 78.89 points and took a 2 ½-point lead over their training partners and chief rivals, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, the defending gold medalists.
Virtue and Moir received 76.33 points in the short program. Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia took third place with 73.04 points.
At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, White and Davis had to be satisfied with silver medals as Virtue and Moir prevailed with a more classical style and romantic approach. But the judges have signaled a changing of the guard at these Games.
The Americans decisively defeated the Canadians in the dance portion ofthe team figure skating competition a week ago. On Sunday, Davis and White were technically better on a required step sequence and prevailed on skating skills, transitions and linking footwork, performance, choreography and musical interpretation.
“They fly; they just fly,” Marina Zoueva of Russia, who coaches both dance teams, said of Davis, 27, and White, 26. “You can see they are very, very strong. At the same time, so light and flowing. You didn’t see any moment when they are forcing it.”
Davis and White grew up 10 minutes from each other outside Detroit. They have skated together for about 18 years, since they were in elementary school. Along with familiarity and comfort, they have also developed an enhanced sense of expression and musicality since finishing as runners-up in Vancouver.
“I don’t think either of us was really thinking about pushing, really, rather enjoying it, enjoying each other’s company,” White said of Sunday’s short program.
Midway through the routine, Davis said, “I just felt like I was in a dream.
The Americans and the Canadians have each won two world championships in addition to their Olympic medals. But White and Davis have not lost to Virtue and Moir over five competitions (including the Olympic team event) in the last two years
On Sunday, Virtue, 24, and Moir, 26, skated to Louis Armstrong’s “Dream a Little Dream” and Ella Fitzgerald’s “Cheek to Cheek.” They lost some ground on a sequence called a Finn step, a bubbly, compulsory movement of 30-plus seconds that requires light steps, hops and precise timing.
Virtue, Moir and their coach could not immediately explain the slight mistake without the aid of film.
“I think that was the strongest we skated, for sure,” Moir said.
Ice dance has suffered in credibility because of a perception of predetermined outcomes. That suspicion was validated by the vote-trading scandal involving pairs skating and dance at the 2002 Salt Lake Games.
The old 6.0 system was scrapped in an attempt to make the sport more objective with a code of accumulated points. But scandal again threatened skating as the Sochi Games began. L’Équipe, a French sports newspaper, quoted an unnamed Russian coach as saying that Russia and the United States had conspired to fix some events at the expense of the Canadians.
The Americans would supposedly help the Russians win the team and pairs competitions, the newspaper reported, while the Russians would help the Americans win the ice dance.
But Russia seemed to need no help in winning the team and pairs gold medals. And the Americans did not appear to need any help in ice dance, with Davis and White the Olympic favorites.
The United States figure skating association called the reports of collusion “categorically false.” The International Olympic Committee declined to investigate, saying it was treating the L’Équipe article “as a bit of gossip, frankly, which is groundless.”
In the team competition, Davis and White won the short and long programs. In the short program, Virtue made a mistake on a twizzle, which is a one-footed turn or traveling spin. There was no obvious error by the Canadians on Sunday, but Davis and White have clearly moved ahead in the rivalry.
Perhaps, said Tracy Wilson, a 1988 Olympic bronze medalist in ice dance from Canada, Virtue and Moir have become so devoted to the creativity of their skating that it was “a case of artists getting lost in their art.”
Wilson added that the more athletic Davis and White might remain more attuned to their performances and technique, repeatedly telling themselves, “Step, connect, smile.”
In Monday’s free skate, Davis and White will perform to “Scheherazade,” based on the story of a dissatisfied and felonious sultan who marries and murders a bride each day. His latest and most clever wife saves herself by telling the sultan a fascinating story that does not end.
Zoueva, the coach of Davis and White, said recently that she wanted the couple to add more erotic feeling to the Olympic free skate to elevate the dramatic tension of love and escape.
“That’s a little room for improvement,” Zoueva said. “My mission is, you can’t turn your eye from them. Everyone has to watch. Even the men will watch ice dance.”