OMAHA, Neb. – With a world title and an Olympic silver medal of their own already, Meryl Davis and Charlie White were quite happy to share this latest accomplishment.
Davis and White won their fifth straight ice dance crown at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday, matching a record held by four other couples. As the audience stood and cheered, Davis knelt close to the ice for several seconds, her head bowed.
“Being in such an elite group of American ice dancers from the past and seeing that we belong with them, it’s special,” White said. “All the hard work and our families and their dedication, our support group – you need a lot of things to come together to make that happen, including staying healthy. There are a lot of little things. I’m proud of us for being able to stick with it, and our continuing love for the sport has helped a lot.
“I’m pleased and I couldn’t be more proud.”
Judy Schwomeyer and James Sladky (1968-72); Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert (1981-85); Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev (1999-2003); and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto (2004-2008) also won four titles.
The Olympic silver medalists and 2011 world champions had had such a big lead after the short dance they had to do little more but step on the ice to win. But they did so much more than that with their dramatic and powerful routine to “Notre Dame de Paris,” setting personal bests for both overall score (197.44 points) and free dance (118.42).
They finished more than 20 points ahead – yes, you read that right – of Madison Chock and Evan Bates (175.91). Maia and Alex Shibutani were docked a point for an extended lift and finished third (174.21).
Earlier Saturday, Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir overcame a big mistake to win their first pairs title.
“Coming to the U.S. Championships is a good time and there’s always a positive energy,” Davis said. “It’s such an honor to come here. I think being able to perform really well pushes us to put out a better performance, and we are honored to get the results that we did.”
For generations, Americans weren’t even an afterthought in ice dance. They were so far below the world powerhouses it’s a good bet the Russians and British didn’t even know their names.
But that has changed in the last 10 years, and Davis and White now set the standard in the sport. Their rivalry with Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir is the best thing going, with the training partners playing a game of “Can you top this?” Virtue and Moir edged the Americans at the Vancouver Olympics, as well as at the 2010 and 2012 world championships. The Americans won the world title in 2011, as well as the last four Grand Prix finals.
Though they have no peers in the United States, that doesn’t mean they coast when they come to nationals.
Far from it.
“That energy only pushes us and makes us feel even more excited,” Davis said.
Their performance was spellbinding, so intense no one in the arena dared breathe. Every inch of the ice, every nuance of music was filled with intricate and elegant moves, one more difficult than the next. Their skating skills have always been superb, their edge quality so fine that coaches pop in DVDs of them to show their students.
But it is the way they combine the athletic strengths with the beauty and elegance of a dance that makes them so breathtaking. They are a sporting event and a theater show rolled into one. Their lifts can barely be described they were so intricate and innovative. In one, White twirled Davis like a rifle and whipped her from his front to back all while skating and turning at full speed.
They oozed emotion, using the tips of their eyelashes all the way down to the toes of their feet to express the character of the dance, and the audience was as exhausted as Davis and White when they finished.
Chock and Bates and the Shibutanis have the misfortune of trying to compete with that, and there was no way they could come close. At least, not now.
Chock and Bates’ lifts are filled with unique positions, and they were done with great speed and control. But it was the love story they displayed to “Dr. Zhivago” that was so delightful. Close your eyes, and you could almost see the horses and the sleigh in the falling snow.
“It’s been such a great season,” Chock said. “We have been working very hard, and we hope to keep getting better and better from here.”
The Shibutanis’ routine to “Memoirs of a Geisha” was seamless, the elements flowing from one to the other so perfectly it was impossible to tell where one ended and the next began. The siblings opened with a pairs spin that was better than anything seen during the actual pairs competition earlier in the afternoon, and it lasted for what seemed like forever – no easy feat to maintain that speed and momentum.
Their twizzles – traveling spins – are, simply, exquisite. They are done in perfect unison, right down to the raising of their arms while they spin. Their big flaw was that he held his sister too long on a lift, a mistake they also made in the short dance.