SOCHI, Russia — The Americans “smoked” the Canadians in Round 1.
The new Olympic figure skating team event offered a preview of the ice dance competition, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the U.S. cemented their status as favorites. The reigning world champions earned nearly 10 more total points in their short and free dances than their rivals and training partners, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the Canadian defending Olympic gold medalists.
Afterward, Moir summed it up this way: “We got smoked.”
In Russia, where the fans burst into cheers at the first few notes of “Swan Lake” accompanying one of the country’s entries, the sport has been nurtured and perfected. Ice dancers from the Soviet Union or Russia have won seven of the 10 gold medals in the event’s Olympic history and 17 of 30 medals overall.
But the power has shifted to North America over the last half-decade, specifically to one rink in the Detroit area. Then again, the coach who has guided Davis-White and Virtue-Moir to the pinnacle of the sport, Marina Zoueva, is Russian.
The Canadians got there first, becoming the first non-Europeans to win ice dance gold at their home Olympics in 2010. The Americans were right behind them with silver, but in the four years since Davis and White have overtaken Virtue and Moir.
“Year by year we’re always trying to top ourselves,” White said. “It has really gotten us to the point we feel like we’re a complete team.”
Russia’s top ice dance team, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, may be chasing bronze in Sochi. The short dance is Sunday, the free dance Monday.
Virtue and Moir have repeatedly insisted that their programs are a work in progress, that they can squeeze more points out of the performances in the week between the team event and ice dance competition. Virtue had a bobble on a twizzle in the team short dance, and they fell short on the technical side in several areas in the free dance.
Moir expressed confidence that they could make those up, but it’s a big gap for a discipline in which there are no jumps to fall on.
“It’s a very demanding program, but we’re still building on it,” Moir said after finishing behind the Americans in both dances in the team event, though Canada’s squad won silver to the U.S. bronze. “Up until now, I’ve only thought about the team, but now it’s time to move forward.”
Davis and White, both from Michigan, have been skating together for more than 15 years. She’s now 27 and he’s 26. Their free dance to “Sheherazade” culminates with a triumphant sequence of speed and power, as they fly across the ice on a series of lifts.
“I think the last four years have served us very well,” Davis said. “We’re very confident. We’re very excited to get out on the ice every time we get the opportunity because we get a chance to show the world how much work we’ve put into this.”