Six and counting: Masterful Davis, White win againChock, Bates take second; Shibutanis hold off Hubbell, Donohue for third
Now, they stand alone.
With a dazzling interpretation of Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade on Saturday night at the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships, Meryl Davis and Charlie White became the winningest U.S. ice dance team in history, claiming a sixth national title and setting a standard of excellence that will be difficult for future teams to surpass.
Living out the Olympic motto "faster, higher, stronger," the skaters took their performance quality up several notches from earlier this season. Lifts were lighter and faster, footwork flowed easily, and the program gained speed and intensity throughout. It all built to a dramatic ending, with back-to-back lifts and an indelible closing pose.
The King -- and the audience -- succumbed to Scheherazade's charms.
"The program comes to a head at the end in terms of the theme and the music," White, 26, said. "We have to take advantage of that and leave a lasting image."
"Our coach (Marina Zoueva) has all sorts of crazy tactics; we'll do the program all the way through, we'll do different increments of the program, repetitions again, again and again," Davis, 27, said. "She doesn't want us to give away all of her secrets."
Their thrilling performance achieved a trifecta of perfection: All eight elements gained the maximum Level 4, with perfect grades of execution. The five program components scores were perfect 10s. Their free dance score, 119.50 points, is the highest total the program could possibly receive. Needless to say, their total score of 200.19 points is a new U.S. record.
Davis is right. Zoueva, a savvy former Soviet competitor with masters degrees in physical education and art, prefers not to discuss her training methods.
"Someday, I will write a book and tell everything," said the coach, who trains her teams in Canton, Mich. "I have an education in general physical preparation; I just use the classic way.
"Only Meryl and Charlie can do this type of program. Only they have this type of talent. ... I have worked with them for 12 years, and they are great, great, great workers."
There is one area of Scheherazade Zoueva still thinks can be improved: the romantic connection between the characters. As the story of 1001 nights goes, the King takes a bride he plans to kill after their first night together. Scheherazade bewitches her husband so much, though, he falls in love. To help tell the tale, Zoueva added a bit of titillating body contact between her skaters in the program's middle section.
"It wasn't enough; we will go forward with it more," she said of her skater's efforts. "There has to be a little more touch, a little more feeling."
As always, Davis and White stand ready to deliver.
"We expect more from ourselves," Davis said. "We hope each performance is more and more, and better and better. We didn't come here and then expect to take a two-week vacation before Sochi. We're excited to improve over the next couple of weeks."
Madison Chock and Evan Bates won their second consecutive U.S. silver medal with a commanding performance to music from Les Misérables that capitalized on their own growing on-ice connection.
The skaters, who are coached by Igor Shpilband in Novi, Mich., earned Level 4's for every element except the closing diagonal steps. They placed second in the free dance with 108.03 points and ended with 181.44 points.
"We've been able to put more focus on each other out there as the season goes on and we get more comfortable with the program," Chock, 21, said. "There's just an easier connection."
"We just keep pushing it," Bates, 24, said. "If we skate like this in Sochi, we will be very happy."
If, as expected, Chock and Bates are named to the Sochi team, it will be Bates' second Olympics. He placed 11th in 2010 with former partner Emily Samuelson.
"It's just crazy," the University of Michigan graduate said. "Back in 2010, I didn't know what to expect or how to react. Now, I know how much it means."
Davis and White's training partners, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, grabbed the bronze medal and, very likely, the third spot on the Sochi U.S. ice dance team with a sharp, precise performance of their free dance to Michael Jackson hits.
Boston's TD Garden roared its approval of the fast and entertaining performance to three of the King of Pop's most familiar songs, including "Wanna Be Startin' Somethin,'" "Man in the Mirror" and "Thriller." The siblings gained five Level 4 elements, earning 102.44 points for their free dance and 170.44 points overall.
"I feel like a rock star," said the 22-year-old Alex, who was born in Boston and is still an avid fan of the city's professional sports teams, including the Red Sox.
"We're never done a program like this before, where people scream from the second the first note hits. People remember watching [Jackson's videos] and learning his dance steps in front of the TV."
Maia thinks the best is yet to come.
"We're not done; we're still improving the program," the 19-year-old said. "If we do go to Sochi, it will be a dream come true."
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, the 2012 U.S. bronze medalists who placed fourth last season, were fourth again here after a passionate, yet subtle, free dance to Lucia Micarelli's "Nocturne/ Bohemian Rhapsody." They posted 167.27 points overall, just missing the bronze medal and the third Olympic spot.
The 22-year-old Hubbell has skated this season with a torn left labrum that required an anti-inflammatory cortisone injection in November.
"The crowd's energy really helped us perform all the way through the four minutes," she said. "I don't think we could be any more proud of ourselves this year. It's been very tough. Everyone knows, it's an old story. But for us, it's very emotional."
"I'm so proud of my partner. She's gone through a lot this year: concussions, torn body parts, bruises, cuts, scrapes," Donohue, 23, said. "She really pulled through, and I think we had the best skate of our lives so far."
Two-time U.S. junior champions Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton, who have won the bronze medal at junior worlds the last two seasons, placed fifth.