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Davis, White bring first world dance title to U.S.

Shibutanis take bronze at first senior worlds

Meryl Davis and Charlie White came away with the world title in Moscow.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White came away with the world title in Moscow. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(04/30/2011) - In a battle of archrivals and friends, U.S. champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White out-dueled Canadian Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to bring home the first-ever U.S. world ice dance title.

"It's been 15 years we've skated together just building toward this moment," White, 23, said. "I think we kind of knew it would come eventually, but you have to make it happen on the ice.

"We're very lucky to be in a situation where we can train hard and have the best coaching and have the best teammates in the world to spur us forward. We're very honored to be the first Americans."

U.S. silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani completed the North American sweep of ice dance medals by winning a surprising bronze. Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein placed ninth, putting all three U.S. teams in the top ten.

Davis and White's margin of victory -- 3.48 points overall -- was close, as it typically is when the two top teams face off. They placed first in the free dance, earning a season-high 111.51 points, after being edged by the Canadians in the short dance.

Previously, the Americans have placed second to the Canadians at the 2010 Olympics and the 2010 ISU World Figure Skating Championships, although they had defeated them at the 2009-10 Grand Prix Final and 2009 ISU Four Continents Championships.

In Moscow, it came down to the American's Argentine Tango, versus the Canadian's Samba.

Davis and White had the higher program component mark and the higher technical element score, gaining one more Level 4 element than Virtue and Moir. Their twizzles were a touch more synchronized, their spin a bit faster.

After the closing rotational lift, the Americans seemed drained but happy with their performance.

"Throughout the season, we've been saying we want to put everything out on the ice and not hold anything back," Davis, 24, said. "It definitely felt we did that today. We're so pleased we skated the way that we did."

Virtue and Moir, too, had an outstanding performance to their sexy and dynamic Samba free dance, but the program lacked some of the Americans' energy and intensity.

"We got a little sloppy at the end, I think we got a little tired," Virtue said. "We were definitely in the moment. We didn't want to hold back."

Moscow marked the first time the Canadians, who did not compete on the Grand Prix Series or at the Canadian Championships, performed a complete version of their free dance in competition. At the 2011 ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in February, they gave up after the first two elements, citing tightness in her thigh.

This lack of experience could have made the difference. Tracy Wilson, the 1988 Olympic ice dance bronze medalist and figure skating commentator, said the Americans had "Perhaps aggressiveness, a polish. They didn't have to think, they were a well-oiled machine. Both of these teams, it was an incredible night."

It was a night to celebrate for the three medal-winning teams' coaches, Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, who train the three medal-winning couples, and Chock and Zuerlein, at the Arctic Edge in Canton, Mich.

"I think it's a very big thing for North America to have three ice dance teams on the podium," Zoueva, a former Soviet ice dance competitor who has been working in North America for two decades, said. "It was the golden era [of ice dance] in the Soviet Union, now it is the golden era in North America.

"The way we get this is true way, the sport way. We bring balance and harmony between sport and art. All of our teams have extremely different styles and really strong base."

For Shpilband, who has trained a string of U.S. ice dance champions, including five-time U.S. champions Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, it was "twenty years of work."

"I have no words to express it, maybe you should ask me a week from now," said the Moscow-born Shpilband, who defected to the U.S. in 1990.

"Right now, it feels like yes, we have been working many, many years, many teams have contributed to it, and not just me -- there were officials, other judges, of course Marina. I hope it is going to push U.S. ice dance even further."

Shibutani and Shibutani's free dance, set to Quickstep and Foxtrot rhythms, was light and elegant, earning a season-best 96.91 points.

The siblings, who finished with 163.79 points, continue to astound the figure skating world with their fast success. Now, after becoming the only team to win two Grand Prix medals in their senior debut season, they have taken another giant leap forward.

"We were a little surprised but really excited," Maia, 16, said. "Our goal this year was to make it to the world championships. We're here to soak up every single second."

Third after the short dance, Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat took themselves off the podium when Bourzat slipped during the circular step sequence, causing he and Pechalat to fall. They received zero points for the element, sustained a two-point deduction and placed fourth with 163.54.

Chock and Zuerlein skated with aplomb to their entertaining Cabaret free dance, gaining a tremendous response from the Moscow audience. They, too, earned a season-best score, and ended with 151.86.

"It's a fun program to skate and we're glad they enjoyed it," Chock said.

"Making worlds was our big goal this season. We didn't have any expectations, just want to skate two solid programs," Zuerlein said.