SOCHI, Russia – American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White already have Olympic bronze (from this year’s team event) and silver (from the 2010 Vancouver Games) medals, and Sunday they set out for the missing – golden – piece at the Sochi Games.
But standing in their way are 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the Canadians who share a coach and train alongside Davis/White, making their Olympic showdown one of the most anticipated match-ups of these Games.
After splitting the first two World Championships crowns following the Vancouver Games, Davis/White have seemed to inch ahead of Virtue/Moir, not losing in nearly two years, coming in as reigning world champions and easily taking the ice dance portion of the team event last week.
While the battle for the gold medal promises to be fierce and dramatic, so too will the ensuing fight for the bronze in the ice dance event inside Iceberg Skating Palace, which gets underway on Sunday and concludes Monday night.
After not competing against one another for nearly a year, Davis/White and Virtue/Moir have battled twice in the last 10 weeks, though the outcomes have been vastly different score-wise. At the Grand Prix Final in December, the Americans barely edged out their foes, setting a world record en route to their record 16th Grand Prix gold medal.
But last week in the new Olympic team event, Davis/White won going away thanks to errors in both the short and free dances from Virtue/Moir, winning by a margin of 10 points.
“We were very proud of the way that we skated in the team event,” White told reporters at a press conference Thursday. “The perfectionists that we are, we’re looking forward to putting out performances that can top what we did in the team event.”
Davis/White have often been called America’s “most assured gold” of these Games, though the skaters disagree with that.
“The great thing about ice dancing right now is that it’s a true sport,” White said. “It’s very competitive; there is a lot of great talent that can rise to the top. You have to skate great if you want to go out and win, and that goes for every team. All we can do is worry about going out and skating our best. There’s no shoo-in.”
The American duo – as well as the Canadians – has skated together since they were kids. Davis/White say they have no issue with being the favorites.
“We’ve worked hard to earn that right,” said Davis, who is a year older than White at 27. “We’ve worked hard to be in the place that we are in now. We wouldn’t have put in all that work to get there if it wasn’t where we wanted to be. We feel like we’re in a great spot.”
The American ice dance team as a whole is in a great spot after years of not being part of the international conversation. Madison Chock and Evan Bates said they were inspired by compatriots Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto’s silver medal at the 2006 Games. Only a duo since 2011, Chock/Bates were seventh at the World Championships last year and have two U.S. silvers behind Davis/White at Nationals.
Siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani round out the American ice dance effort, having won bronze at the World Championships in 2011. The Shibutanis skate to a Michael Jackson medley for their free dance, a program that has been a crowd favorite this season.
The Battle for Bronze
While Davis/White and Virtue/Moir are expected to fight it out for the top of the podium just as they did in Vancouver, the battle for bronze should be equally as fierce, led by two teams that have won World Championships third-place finishes over the last two years.
Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev are four-time reigning national champions and skated to third place in the team short dance segment, ahead of French veterans Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, a team that has two European Championships to its name – in 2011 and 2012 – as well as the 2012 World Championships bronze.
Also to watch? Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, the Italians who won their first European Championships gold last month in Budapest. Virtue/Moir’s teammates Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje were fifth at the World Championships a year ago, but are getting on the ice for the first time in Sochi Sunday night. A second Russian team, Yelena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, could factor in, as well, having skated to a third-place finish in the free dance of the team event.
The Russians will have home-ice advantage and an eager crowd after it was silenced during the men’s singles event when sole Russian entrant Yevgeny Plushenko pulled out with an injury prior to its start.
Bobrova/Soloviyev and Ilinykh/Katsalopv both have the experience of skating on the Iceberg ice in the team event and – as we saw in the team and pairs event – the crowd can certainly play a role in buoying the Russian skaters.
Do Davis/White expect to win gold after their two years of unrivaled success?
“It’s not something we really think about,” White said. “If that moment comes then maybe we can enjoy it. Right now we want to put out a memorable performance. That’s what we’ve been preparing for our whole season in practice. We’re not preparing to win a gold medal, but instead to do something on the ice that we’re proud of and can remember forever.”