U.S. ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White skated their best in the short program Sunday, which has them in first place and headed toward the gold medal into tomorrow’s free dance competition at the Sochi Olympics. The duo received a score of 78.8 9, putting them well ahead of the defending gold medalists Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who received 76,33. The Russian team of Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov edged out the French duo of Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat for third place, with scores of 73.04 and 72.78.
Davis and White have been heavily favored over their training partners Virtue and Moir. Both duos have dominated ice dancing at the world level for many years.
A year after winning the silver medal in the 2010 Olympics, the six-time US champions became the first American ice dance team to become World Champions. They achieved this in 2013 and 2011. They finished second to Canadians Virtue and Moir in 2012 and 2010.
After a solid 2013-2014 competitive season, Davis and White were already favored but they decided to fine-tune their routines before Sochi, a more that has them headed toward gold after their My Fair Lady-themed short program. The American team displayed their speed and polish in short dance, but the nuances added to their routine in recent months were spectacular. To prepare, they enlisted Derek Hough, five-time Dancing with the Stars champion, to work with them on choreography and perfecting their on-ice foxtrot and quickstep moves. The choice made sense since he popularity of television dance competitions, like Dancing with the Stars, has increased the popularity of ice dancing.
Davis and White also worked to perfect their longer free dance routine, which is based on Scheherazade, the story of a Persian woman who enchants a Sultan with her stories to save her life. The skaters employed a belly dancer to put the sizzle in their sultry free dance choreography.
Now 27 and 26 years old, Davis and White have been skating together since they were 9 and 8 years old, respectively. White once dreamt of Olympic career in hockey, but focused in on ice dancing. It helps that they are from a suburb of Detroit, which has become one of the leading ice dancing training areas in the world.
Igor Shpilband, a Russian ice dancer, defected to the U.S. in 1990 and began coaching at the Detroit Skating Club. He and another former Russian ice dancer who immigrated to the area, Marina Zoueva, discipline their students on the polish and technique that had been lacking in previous American and Canadian ice dance teams. Shpilband and Zoueva ended their partnership in 2012. But the results of the effort is shown in the pairs they training competing in Sochi, who are now solely coached by Zoueva. This includes Davis and White, Virtue and Moir, as well as Maia and Alex Shibutani, a sibling ice dance team from the U.S. who were the 2011 World bronze medalists.
Zoueva wears a Canadian team jacket when shown at Virtue and Moir at the Olympics then switches to a U.S. jacket with Davis and White. After their short program in Sochi, it looks like red, white and blue will be the color she wears as her ice dancers Davis and White are headed toward the gold medal.
By Dyanne Weiss