Sochi Olympics Figure Skating

Like fine art, ice dancing greatness in eye of beholder


SOCHI, Russia – Ice dancing, more than anything at the Winter Games, is subjective. There are a lot of judged sports at the Olympics, of course, but none of them are quite so mystifying for an average person to gauge. Put a complete novice at the judge’s table for halfpipe, ski jumping or even pairs figure skating, and there’s a pretty good chance they would get at least SOME of it right. Hey, if nothing else, we can all tell it’s bad when someone falls down.

But ice dancing? What is there to hold onto? There are no jumps in ice dancing, no falls, rarely even a noticeable stumble. There are moments where one skater must mirrors the other’s actions, but most of the best teams seem to move and spin in perfect synchronicity. There are difficult lifts but, again, the best ice dancers seem to do these flawlessly and without apparent effort. There is the way the dance meets the music, but people will feel differently about that.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White have dedicated the vast majority of their lives to this bewildering sport. Monday night, they climbed the summit. They won their gold medal – with a record score, no less. It was the first ice dancing gold medal ever for Americans. They had spent almost three-quarters of their lives preparing for it.

What made Meryl and Charlie the best ice dancers in the world Monday night? That’s a loaded question, isn’t it? There are undoubtedly Canadians who think they weren’t. One of them, a Toronto Star columnist named Rosie DiManno, was so outraged by Davis and White outscoring Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir in the short program Sunday that she led her column like so: “The villainy of ice dancing knows no bounds.”

VIDEO: Davis, White break down their routine

A little later – in case anyone missed the point — she added, “If the fix is not in against Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir then I’m the Princess of Wales.” Ms. DiManno was not going for subtlety.

She might not represent the majority of Canadian opinion on the matter – I don’t know. But there are certainly Canadians who think Virtue and Moir were better. The majority of Russians at the Iceberg Skating Palace did not seem happy with Davis and White winning gold, either. Davis and White’s seemingly (to me) brilliant dance was met with quite a lot of silence, and their sky-high score of 116.63 drew more than a few whistles of disagreement. Well, obviously, those same fans were sky-high for Russian bronze medalists Yelena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov instead.


This is ice dancing. And, I think, it’s more art than sport. Well, the judges are trained to look at it through the more technical lens we attach to sports. They are trained to understand the components, the elements, the concepts of transitions and linking and footwork and skating skills and all that stuff.

But let’s be honest: The real judges in all these sports are the people watching on television. We live in an American Idol, America’s Got Talent world. People won’t watch anything unless they can judge for themselves. In our house, we as a family sit on the couch and judge cooking shows even though, you know, we can’t actually TASTE the food.

So we judge these ice dancers based on whatever we happen to base it on.

“Interestingly, I think that’s part of the allure of what we do,” said Virtue when asked about the capriciousness of scoring. “It’s that balance of athleticism and art. … We have to stay true to our product, stay true to our material and block out that added noise. We have to be true to what we are doing.”

VIDEO: Davis, White “in shock” after first Olympic gold

This is a remarkable statement on ice dancing and all other judged sports, I think. And when you get down to it – past all the griping about judging, the personal views, the nationalism that goes with the Olympics – this is how Davis and White won gold. They were true to their sport and each other ever since they were under 10 years old.

How true? Look: When someone asked them what was the closest they ever came to breaking up, they kind of looked at each other, shrugged, and said they didn’t always get along but they never came close to breaking up.

That’s hard to imagine – a boy and a girl have been ice dancing since they were nearly 10 and have NEVER come close to breaking up? But even if it’s an exaggeration (and there’s no reason to believe it is), Davis and White just had bigger thoughts going than whether or not to break up. They have been ferociously dedicated to being the best ice dancers on earth.

You know, American ice dancing used to be almost irrelevant on the world stage. The first Olympic ice dancing competition was in 1976 – the United States won bronze. America would not win another Olympic medal for 30 years. More to the point, they almost never even came close. In the four Winter Olympics between 1992 and 2002, the best any American ice dancing team finished was seventh.

VIDEO: Virtue, Moir claim silver

“It took some time for the United States to find its voice in ice dancing,” says Tanith Belbin, who is the girlfriend of White and who teamed with Ben Agosto to win America’s first ice dancing silver medal in 2006. “But once competitors and coaches were able to find their own style, they began to separate themselves from the more dominant European teams.”

Davis and White were the team that took the new American style of ice dancing to its height. They were the first Americans to win a world title in 2011 and then they won another two years later. People who know tell me that they blended technical near-perfection with a mesmerizing musical rhythm – if you watch closely you see that the speed of their skating seems perfectly set to the tempo of the song, as if they are being pulled along by the musical notes.

Their journey has been inextricably linked with Virtue and Moir, who beat them for gold at the 2010 Games (Davis and White won silver). They all train at the same Michigan rink. Davis and White and are coached by Marina Zoueva, who also coaches Virtue and Moir. They have been the best two ice dancing teams for years now, and at times it seems they have only each other to push. So they have all taken the sport higher and higher; each team has had to keep forcing their way skyward or fall.

“There’s a lot pressure knowing that if you’re not perfect you can forget about your dreams,” White says. “And that constant trying for perfection for you to look in the mirror and figure out what it’s going to take to get there.”

This was what Davis and White faced for almost a decade. Every day, they were inspired and unnerved by the skating genius of Virtue and Moir. And vice versa.

VIDEO: Davis, White explain origins of their program

And this struggle to find higher ground was at the very heart of Davis and White’s performance Monday night. They danced to the symphonic suite “Scheherazade,” based on Arabian Nights, and to get it just right they worked with a Persian dancer in addition to their coach and choreographer. They listened to the music again until they felt like they could climb inside it. They wanted to know the stories behind the music, the motivations for the notes. They wanted to express that in their skating.

Does that background come through for someone watching? I asked Charlie White that a few months ago and he said that, yeah, he thinks it does come through in the subtlest ways. It might not be something people can see or hear, but it adds a depth that people will subconsciously feel. This is what you hope with art, anyway: That it will convey something deeper than what is obvious and on the surface.

Then great art to one person is a silver or bronze medal to another. That’s just how ice dancing goes. Davis and White not only became the first Americans to ever win a gold medal in ice dancing, they became the first Americans at these Olympics to win a gold medal in a non-Winter X Games sport. With their winning personalities they are sure to become big stars when they get home.

RELATED: Davis, White “completely unprepared for this moment”

But I suspect the greatest part of it all was that moment after they finished their free skate Monday. They knew it was going to win them the gold medal. They had to know that. They embraced for a long time. It was the best they had ever skated, the very best, and it happened on the world stage, in front of a somewhat frosty audience, with the most intense pressure and death stares all around them. They had done it.

Then the score came. Then the realization: They were gold medalists. Then, in a blur, there was the flower ceremony, then reporters surrounded them, then they were sitting at a press conference and then more and more and more.

Through it all, they were somewhat foggy. They had been skating together since they were barely 10 years old, and always they stayed in the moment. That was what anchored them.

Distractions? Stay in the moment.

Pressure? Stay in the moment.

Injury? Stay in the moment.

There was always another practice, another duty, another tournament, another program, another song, another challenge.

Stay in the moment. Stay in the moment.

And then, finally, they had won gold. There was no moment left to stay in.

“How do you feel?” the reporters asked because that’s what reporters always ask.

“To be honest with you,” Meryl Davis said, and she smiled because it was just so ridiculous, “I don’t think we know how we feel.”

Joe Posnanski is the national columnist for NBC Sports. Follow him on twitter @JPosnanski

Ted Ligety recovers for fifth place in return from torn ACL

SOELDEN, AUSTRIA - OCTOBER 23: Ted Ligety of USA in action during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Men's Giant Slalom on October 23, 2016 in Soelden, Austria (Photo by Alain Grosclaude/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

SOELDEN, Austria (AP) — For once, Ted Ligety could live with finishing fifth in an event he had won four times in the previous five years.

At least he’s back racing again.

The Olympic and world giant slalom champion returned to the Alpine skiing World Cup on Sunday, nine months after tearing the ACL in his right knee in a training accident.

In 14th place and 1.49 seconds off the lead after the opening run, Ligety vastly improved in the second and climbed nine spots in the traditional first race of the season on a mountain glacier in the Austrian Alps.

“I am not here to get 10th place. Even though that wouldn’t be a horrible result for the first time back, I like to be challenging for a podium,” Ligety told The Associated Press between runs.

He came 1.65 behind the dominant winner, Alexis Pinturault of France, but the result made him smile.

“I’m definitely happy with fifth place to start it off with,” Ligety said. “In the second run I charged a little harder. I skied well, for sure. I definitely felt a little bit more confident than in the first run where I was on the conservative side.”

The knee injury occurred in Germany in January. By that time, “my season was already messed up from smaller injuries, anyway” as he dealt with back and hip ailments.

After his season got off to a strong start by winning in Soelden and coming runner-up in a super-G in Beaver Creek, Colorado, in early December, the physical troubles took their toll and he failed to finish most races.

The training crash then caused the first season-ending injury in his 13-year-old career.

“During the first couple of weeks, watching races on the couch was less than fun, and a couple of weeks later watching races on the spinning bike was even less fun,” Ligety said. “But it makes you hungry to race again, too.”

The American called himself “lucky that there was no more damage” because “an ACL is a pretty straight forward thing” which many skiers have to deal with in their careers.

“You’re more likely to win an Olympic gold medal in skiing if you have had an ACL so I am joining a better statistical group now,” he joked.

Physically fit again but with less training on snow than usual, Ligety returned to the mountain in Austria where he won a record five times in total, most recently a year ago for the last of his 25 World Cup victories.

“My knee doesn’t bother me at all skiing, it’s just about finding that next high speed gear. I am not there yet but I am happy to race.”

Usually an all-round competitor, Ligety will first try to regain his old strength in GS before getting other disciplines back onto his schedule.

He planned to do some super-G races but could well stay away from what used to be his strongest discipline when he entered the World Cup in 2003 — the slalom. This summer, he trained in that discipline only for one day.

“The last couple of years, slalom has not been such a good return on investment for me so I’m not really putting too much into that,” he said. “I’ll ski some slaloms if it works out schedule-wise and training-wise.”

Though his chances to win an overall World Cup title one day are decreasing, the 32-year-old double Olympic champion has enough ambitions left.

“Like every year, the giant slalom globe is the big goal,” said Ligety, who won the prize for the best skier in the discipline five times. “Obviously this year I don’t have the same awesome prep period and miles as I would normally. The world champs (in Switzerland in February) is coming up also and it would be nice to defend the GS title again.”


Gracie Gold details weight issues in figure skating after Skate America struggles

1 Comment

Gracie Gold said she has struggled with weight issues this whole year and in recent seasons in reported comments after she finished fifth at Skate America on Saturday.

“You don’t often see — there aren’t that many — you just don’t see overweight figure skaters for a reason,” Gold said, according to USA Today. “It’s just something I’ve struggled with this whole year and in previous seasons. It’s just difficult when you’re trying to do the difficult triple jumps. It’s something that I am addressing, but it’s obviously not where it should be for this caliber of competition.

“It’s just not what’s required for this sport. It’s a lean body sport, and it’s just not what I have currently.”

Gold fell once in her Skate America short program and twice in her free skate en route to her lowest Grand Prix finish (excluding Grand Prix Finals) since her debut at 2012 Skate Canada.

Gold also finished sixth out of six skaters in her first competition this season, the free-skate-only Japan Open on Oct. 1.

Gold was fourth at the world championships in April, falling from first after the short program. The U.S. champion was still dealing with that “worlds depression” in the summer, even considering skipping the fall Grand Prix season.

Her next scheduled competition is in three weeks at Trophée de France in Paris, which she won last season.

“We just need to adjust my physical shape and mental shape and see if the program can be salvaged for the rest of the year,” Gold said, according to

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule