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Davis, White waltz out to 5.57-point lead

Shibutani siblings' twizzles draw gasps from crowd

Meryl Davis and Charlie White lead heading into the free dance.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White lead heading into the free dance. (Michelle Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/28/2011) - Twizzles -- those blazing one-foot turns that scorch across the ice -- are the quads of ice dance, and no one does them better than Meryl Davis and Charlie White.

Or maybe not.

The reigning Olympic and world silver medalists stepped out to a 5.57-point lead after a majestic short dance to Verdi and Puccini Waltzes that gained Level 4s for all five elements. Still, they were challenged in the twizzle department by rinkmates Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani.

"Twizzles are obviously one of their best attributes," White said of the siblings, who share their training ice in Canton, Mich., as well as coaches Igor Shpiland and Marina Zoueva. "It's hard to keep track of them, they go by so quickly."

The siblings also gained Level 4 for their fancy turns, and did the two-time reigning U.S. champions one better by dashing off not two but three sets in their outing to Richard Rodgers' "Carousel Waltz."

Alex declined the twizzle crown, deferring to White, who is four years older.

"Charlie is in a class of his own; he's the twizzle king," Shibutani said.

"Maybe we'll do a 'twizzle off' when we get back [home]," was White's rejoinder.

Twizzles aside, Davis and White lived up to their billing as overwhelming favorites, showing exceptional speed and control throughout their program, which culminated with a dramatic rotational lift.

They posted their highest score of the season, 76.04 points, including program components ranging from 9.29 to 9.50. (National scores tend to trend higher than international results.)

"The short dance has been challenging, particularly the Golden Waltz [sequences], not only for the skaters but for the coaches," Davis said. "We trained the Golden Waltz last year for competition and it took a really long time for us, and Marina and Igor, to learn what [the judges] were looking for this year."

The short dance, an ISU hybrid of the compulsory dance and original dance, is making its debut this season. This year's version includes two sequences of the Golden Waltz, universally acknowledged as the most difficult compulsory.

Until Canadian Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, return to competition, likely next month at the Four Continent Championships, it is hard to imagine another team posing a serious challenge to Davis and White. The Canadian Olympic and World champions missed the Grand Prix season after Virtue underwent her second surgery to relieve exertional compartment syndrome.

"We're very pleased," White said of Virtue and Moir's impending return. "The biggest difference has been having them train with us. It's so much fun having them on the ice pushing ice.

"At the same time, we will really have to gear up for our next few competitions."

The Shibutanis, who accomplished the unique feat of medaling at both of their Grand Prix events their first senior season, have never skated better. Their 70.47 points also included five Level 4 elements.

"The score is awesome," Alex said. "It feels like the whole year has been leading up to this performance."

Yet another Canton team, Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein, performed an evocative short dance to Edith Piaf Waltzes and sit third with 61.74 points.

"Edith Piaf lived in difficult times, and had a difficult life," Chock said of the French cultural icon. "We want to portray the story of parts of her life."

The couple, who won the world junior title in 2009, also medaled twice on the Grand Prix circuit, taking bronzes at Trophee Eric Bompard and Skate Canada. If the standings hold after the short dance, Canton teams will likely grab all three U.S. ice dance slots for the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships.

"You have to give so much credit to our coaches, Igor and Marina, and Johnny Johns and Adrienne Lenda; they all do such a good job of focusing in on each of us in ways that make us better skaters," White said. "At the same time we all appreciate each other and push each other."

Two other Michigan-based teams -- Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, who train in Ann Arbor, and Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell of the Detroit Skating Club -- are fourth and fifth, respectively.