A world record to overcome and the Grand Prix Final gold medal on the line, American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White rose to the occasion Saturday in Fukuoka, Japan.
Skating after rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had delivered a brilliant free dance to give them a highest-ever overall score, 190.00, Davis/White were flawless in their own free dance, edging out their training partners – literally – by just over a point, with a 191.35.
The win gave Davis/White their 15th straight Grand Prix gold medal, a record in the sport and a streak that dates back to the 2008 season and includes five straight Grand Prix Final wins.
“It’s such an amazing feeling knowing that you put everything into it,” a smiling White told the crowd.
Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France were third, rallying from fifth place with a 169.11.
The win solidifies Davis/White, the 2011 and 2013 world champions, as the favorites heading into the Olympics four years after Virtue/Moir beat them at the Vancouver Games for the gold medal.
“We’re going to work harder than ever,” Davis said. “We’re really excited … the Olympics is the pinnacle of sport and we want to put our best skates forward.”
The favorites couldn’t hold on in the pairs competition, however, with reigning world champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov of Russia giving up a three-point lead after the short program and losing out to Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the 2012 world champions.
It was the first time Savchenko/Szolkowy had beaten the Russian duo, who had been dominant throughout the Grand Prix season and owned the best scores by over 25 points, since the 2012 World Championships.
The loss puts a dent in Volosozhar/Trankov’s formerly impenatrable front-runner status heading into the Olympic Games, though they’re still considered the favorites.
After Savchenko/Szolkowy recorded a personal-best overall score of 227.03, Volosozhar failed to deliver in the final skate of the afternoon, falling on a triple Salchow near the start of the program and then putting her hand down after a triple toe, failing to complete a planned combination.
Those mistakes were enough to vault Savchenko/Szolkowy to their fourth-ever Grand Prix Final gold medal and first since 2011, Volosozhar/Trankov finishing with a 223.83.
“We are really happy,” Szolkowy, 34, said rinkside. “It’s a big surprise for us, but wow, we made it.”
“We will try our best to prepare our best for the Olympics,” he added. “It’s two months from now, so we’ll just keep working, working, working.”
The Germans were bronze medalists at the Vancouver Games.
The silver medalists from the 2010 Olympics, Pang Qing and Tong Jian secured the bronze medal in pairs, the 2010 world champions becoming just the fifth team to score over 200 points this season with a 213.98.
Savchenko/Szolkowy began and ended with big throws: a throw triple flip to start and then a throw triple Salchow to finish. The Germans did not try a throw triple Axel, which Savchenko fell hard on two weeks ago at the Grand Prix of Russia.
Ice dance – Final results
1. Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA) 191.35
2. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (CAN) 190.00
3. Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (FRA) 169.11
4. Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) 166.72
5. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (CAN) 165.04
6. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (ITA) 156.58
Pairs – Final results
1. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (GER) 227.03
2. Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov (RUS) 223.83
3. Pang Qing and Tong Jian (CHN) 213.98
4. Peng Cheng and Zhang Hao (CHN) 197.37
5. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (CAN) 193.38
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch (CAN) 189.11
— U.S. Figure Skating (@USFigureSkating) December 7, 2013
— Nick McCarvel (@NickMcCarvel) December 7, 2013