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Davis and White waltz to fourth national dance title

Champs win with 'Die Fledermaus;' Shibutanis nab silver; Hubbell, Donohue grab bronze

Meryl Davis and Charlie White will make their sixth straight trip to the world championships.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White will make their sixth straight trip to the world championships. (Tom Briglia)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/28/2012) - Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their fourth U.S. ice dance title with a fleet-footed and sparkling performance of Strauss' Die Fledermaus that hit all of the high notes and kept the audience at the edges of their seats at the U.S. Championships.

The jewels of U.S. skating once again sparkled and bubbled to the light-hearted Viennese operetta, gaining cheers for their two rotational lifts and building excitement with their galop through their midline steps.

The U.S. world champions earned 114.65 points, a new U.S. championships high, and ended with 191.54 points, also a new U.S. standard.

"I think we achieved exactly what it is we wanted this week, which was to achieve a new comfort level with our performances and leave it all out on the ice," Davis said.

"It was great crowds here for both the short dance and free dance," White said. "It's nice to see and if anything, it makes us perform better. There's quite a bit of momentum, and I think we're taking it in the right direction. It's just going to keep building."

Davis and White's training partners in Canton, Mich., Alex Shibutani and Maia Shibutani, had what they called their best-ever performance of their free dance to Glenn Miller favorites.

The program, highlighted as always by the skaters' blazing Level 4 twizzle sequence, featured a lovely curve lift with Maia in an elegant upward position, as well as a snappy tap dance section and fast-paced closing footwork to In the Mood. They earned 106.23 points for 178.84 overall and their second consecutive silver medal.

"I think we feel we put out a lot stronger programs here than we did this fall in the Grand Prix Series," Maia said. "It's just really a great start for us for the second half of the season."

The program capped a busy six weeks for the siblings, who re-vamped their Latin short dance after placing fifth at the Grand Prix Final in December, changing costumes, choreography and music.

"We've learned throughout our careers, especially as we moved into the senior ranks, that we are able to make a lot of improvement in a short period of time, so we really applied ourselves after the Final, setting goals for ourselves that we wanted to accomplish here," Alex said.

Both of the two top teams train in Canton, Mich., under Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, and compete with each other daily in practice sessions. In the post-event press conference, White reflected on whether staying on top of the ice dance ladder was more difficult than the climb.

"I would say both are difficult," he said. "Year to year it's always different, with different teams. When we were coming up, Ben [Agosto] and Tanith [Belbin] set the standard in U.S. ice dance and were pushing us; now, we are on top, but the Shibutanis are right behind us and that also helps push us. It's different but in some ways also the same."

After the top two couples, who were considered virtual locks for two of the three U.S. world team spots, the competition-within-the competition was for the bronze medal and third U.S. world team spot.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who train at the Detroit Skating Club (DSC) under a team of coaches headed by Pasquale Camerlengo, triumphed with a sexy, fluid skate to "I Put a Spell on You" that made good use of their height, power and chemistry. The program earned 94.04 points, and they ended with 151.60.

"It was very exciting," Hubbell said. "This year, we were just hoping to be in contention for third place. There are so many good new teams and also veteran teams, so our focus was definitely just on putting out a clean performance."

"It's nice seeing your name popping up, like in SKATING magazine, realizing all your hard work is starting to pay off," Donohue said. "This whole journey, this whole year has been great."

Hubbell, who skated with her brother Keiffer for 10 years, teamed with Donohue last spring after Keiffer took a break from skating. Since their debut at summer competitions, including the Lake Placid Skating Championships in August, the tall, striking team has gained attention for their animal attraction on the ice.

"The program was clean, and I think that one thing I love about Madison and Zach is that they bring this energy, they bring this connection, and really what the ISU is looking for, this dancing on the ice," said Massimo Scali, one of their DSC coaches.

Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt, who train in Ann Arbor, Mich., took fourth place with a bluesy free dance to "Walking in the Sand" that included a challenging straight-line lift with Giulietti-Schmitt in a difficult shoot-the-duck position. They earned 92.18 points for 148.55 overall.

Another new partnership, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, performed a delicate and romantic free to music from Chopin, highlighted by easy and elegant lifts and Chock's feminine grace. However, they lost ground when their step sequences gained just Level 2 from the technical panel, and ended up fifth with 145.08 points.