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Davis, White pushed U.S. ice dance to new heights

Duo's drive, commitment make them Elfman's pick for People of the Year
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The idea of a U.S. ice dance team winning gold at the Olympics seemed unfathomable not too long ago. -Getty Images

Icenetwork will announce its choice for 2013-14 Person of the Year on May 15. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an icenetwork contributor.

I have covered the sport of figure skating for more than 25 years, and during that time I've written numerous articles about the international results of U.S. ice dancers and the disappointments that have accompanied those results. I have written about U.S. Figure Skating Championships in which there were fewer than 10 teams competing in the senior dance event.

During years when I wrote features with titles like, "Where have all the dancers gone?" it seemed improbable that one day the American flag would be raised the highest at an Olympic Winter Games. What would it take for that to happen? It would take an extraordinary team that could not be denied.

That is why my selection for Icenetwork's Person of the Year is a team, the Olympic gold medalists in ice dance, Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

"Meryl and Charlie have now branded U.S. ice dancing as something that can be the best in the world, in a very specific moment -- the Olympics -- that makes it feel even bigger than the best in the world," two-time U.S. ice dance bronze medalist Kim Navarro said. "For four years, the U.S. will have that Olympic gold in ice dance. That is amazing."

Now competing on Dancing with the Stars and touring with Stars on Ice, Davis and White are aware of the palpable impact their Olympic win has had.

"The whirlwind following the Olympics has been so exciting, not only because of what we've been doing but the amount of pride and patriotism involved in our conversations with people -- in or out of the skating world. It has been so humbling and such an honor," Davis told me during our first DWTS interview.

Her partner during switch-up week on DWTS, Valentin Chmerkovskiy, watched Davis and White's dress rehearsal before opening night of SOI.

"It was incredible to hear other people talk about the impact that they've had on ice dancing, and ice skating as a whole," he said.

When I talk to ice dancers -- past and present -- and coaches, certain words and phrases are redundant: role models, grace under pressure, the best.

"I am always impressed with their hard work, attention to detail and down-to-earth attitudes," U.S. ice dancer Ginna Hoptman said. "An Olympic gold medal for a U.S. ice dancing team is truly inspirational and means a lot to all the U.S. ice dancers."

The success of the United States in ladies and men's skating is legendary. There is never a dearth of competitors at the national championships, even in times when world medals lag.

In interviews, I would ask, "When are we going to see more ice dancers?" The response was always the same: "When the U.S. starts winning internationally."

Coach Kelley Morris-Adair, past president of the Professional Skaters Association, said there has been a gradual rise in ice dance participation over the last eight years. (Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto won their first world medal in 2005.) She credits U.S. Figure Skating, coaches and judges with great program development and gives credit to Igor Shpilband for pushing U.S. ice dance to a new level.

The proof is in the pudding: At this year's U.S. championships in Boston, 18 teams competed in senior dance; the last time the Championships took place in Beantown, in 2001, there were eight teams in the field, only seven of which finished (due to an injury).

"We are hopeful to see even more ice dancers start in the U.S., especially boys at a younger age," said Morris-Adair, the 1977 U.S. junior ice dance champion.

Over the course of their 17-year partnership, Davis and White have brought a focus and effort level unmatched by any of their predecessors.

"What we take the most pride in is our work ethic and people taking note of that," Davis said after I shared an expression I coined while reporting on the University of Connecticut women's basketball team during a time when it won an NCAA-record 90 consecutive games: Extraordinary accomplishments do not come from ordinary efforts.

In preparation for the Olympic Games in Sochi, Davis and White had given their all in terms of discipline, intensity and commitment. Win or lose, they knew they'd done everything within their control to make history.

"It is more than just Meryl and Charlie's story, which is undeniably incredible, filled with hard work, dedication and a sense of responsibility," Navarro said. "It is a story of U.S. ice dance that has been years and years in the making.

"A path was laid by Judy Schwomeyer and Jim Sladky, Colleen O'Connor and Jim Millns, Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert, Renée Roca and Gorsha Sur, Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow, Naomi Lang and Peter Tchernyshev, and Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto," she added. "Meryl and Charlie took that torch and crossed the finish line.

"It is a satisfaction that goes beyond the Olympic moment. It is history, and we have Meryl and Charlie to thank for making it real."

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