'Dream skate' places Davis, White cozily ahead
Second-place Virtue, Moir thrilled by home crowd; Bobrova, Soloviev pull into third
|Meryl Davis and Charlie White carry a 3.25-point advantage into the free dance. (Getty Images)|
When White and partner Meryl Davis took the ice in London, Ontario, for the 2013 World Championships on Thursday night, for a few minutes the crowd saw a perfect marriage of skaters, choreography and music in the team's short dance to selections from the classical ballet Giselle.
Buoyed by confidence rooted in technical mastery and plain hard work, the five-time U.S. champions looked like they enjoyed every second of their program, from fleeting opening twizzle sequence to fast-floating closing rotational lift. The knowledgeable crowd roared its approval, and the judges rewarded the Americans with 77.12 points, a world-record score.
"It's a really good sign when, from beginning to end, you're having a good time," White, 25, said. "When you're doing a program, it might look like you're enjoying every second, but sometimes you think a little here and there, maybe it doesn't feel perfect the whole way through. It's nice to be able to come and compete like how we practice."
Davis and White's Giselle showed off all of the team's hallmarks -- precision, speed, technical daring -- in five required elements that sprung seamlessly from their blades. Four of those elements gained Level 4s from the technical panel; the first Yankee Polka section rated Level 3. The nine judges awarded straight 2s and 3s for grades of execution (GOEs), and the Americans also edged out the highest program components score.
Although the skaters have worked with a ballet coach at their home training base of Canton, Mich., they gave full credit for Giselle to their coach and choreographer, Marina Zoueva.
"We were integral parts in creating the program, but she was the driving force behind it," White said. "We owe the seamlessness of the program to her."
"There is so much joy in doing the program," Davis, 26, said. "We try to share that joy with the audience."
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's short dance, choreographed by Zoueva to Sir Anthony Hopkins' "The Waltz Goes On," also had its joyous moments, particularly the light and elegant Yankee Polka sections and closing rotational lift. The middle portion was a bit less-than-blissful, at least from a judging standpoint: Virtue, appearing off balance, veered on a twizzle sequence, dropping that element to Level 3. The team also earned Level 3 for its step sequence; the other three elements gained Level 4.
Canada's Olympic champions earned 73.87 points, some 3.15 points less than their long-time U.S. rivals.
"We're happy with the program. Happy with the strength of it," Moir, 25, said. "Not much more to say. We've got ourselves in a little bit of a hole, but the competition is not over yet ... We will see what [our free dance] Carmen has, for sure."
"We're further behind than we want to be, but I don't think it changes our job," Virtue, 23, said. "We are going to go out and attack the program; we have nothing to lose."
The week has been gratifying for Virtue and Moir, who both hail from London and its environs. In the mixed zone after their program, Moir focused more on the crowd response than the twizzles.
"You have to assume it was in the levels, and maybe a little bit in the GOE," he said. "The twizzles are just the easiest thing to point to. I lost a level in the side-by-side (steps); those things happen. This is the favorite competition of my career. I could care less about what 11 people (the judges) think; it's the 10,000 in the audience."
For Zoueva, who coaches both teams in Canton, the evening held mixed emotions.
"You know, one team did a perfect program and the other team did little mistake on the twizzle," Zoueva said. "So, I was really high up and then kind of down."
The fashion-conscious Virtue, known for wearing several different costumes over the course of a season, unveiled a new black dress on Thursday.
Zoueva thinks it may have been costly.
"All the time, they do [the twizzles] perfect," she said. "I think it was the new dress, seriously, because it is a really big skirt. I saw it in the practice and I told her, maybe that is part of the problem."
The major subplot in the ice dance event here is which team will come away with the bronze medal, and the finishing chapter has yet to be written: just 2.51 points separate couples standing third through sixth.
Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, who won the European title in January, are third entering Saturday's free dance after a sensitive and elegant performance of a ballroom-style waltz and polka to Russian movie themes.
The students of Alexander Zhulin gained three Level 4 elements, including the twizzles and lift, and earned 70.05 points.
"We came here in top shape, and we are very happy with our training," Soloviev said. "It wasn't that we made big changes to the program; it was more that we polished all of the elements and that we were able to show our best, technically and emotionally in this competition."
Defending world bronze medalists Nathalie Péchalat and Fabian Bourzat, who withdrew from the 2013 European Championships in January due to Bourzat's torn adductor muscle, skated a flirty can-can that put them just 0.40 behind the Russians.
Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte are fifth with 67.93 points, and Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje -- who spent December and January off the ice, due to Weaver's broken ankle -- sit sixth with 67.54.
Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the U.S. silver medalists, had what they called "a breakthrough" performance to the quirky waltz and polka strains of Cirque du Soleil Quidam.
The Igor Shpilband-trained couple, who teamed in the summer of 2011, gained three Level 4 elements, including their step sequence, the lift and one sequence of the Yankee Polka, and earned a season's best 66.74 points.
"We're thrilled with the performance," Chock, 20, said. "We are a fairly new team, so our focus has been on gelling more, gaining unison and reading each other better when we skate."
"At this point we don't have to think; we just have to perform," Bates, 24, said. "I think at one point, it felt like it was just the two of us out there. I can't remember a time when I felt so comfortable. I felt like it was a breakthrough performance."
U.S. bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani stand eighth, just 0.60 behind Chock and Bates. The siblings, who train under Zoueva, showed off new blue costumes as well as some smooth execution and fine speed in their short dance to a South American polka, waltz and march.
"It was a season's best for us," Maia, 18, said. "We feel like this program has grown so well over the course of the season."
"The changes we've made to the program worked out really well," Alex, 21, said. "It helped us connect with the music. We are performing the program better than we ever have. To be able to put out a strong performance like that, we're really happy and excited going into the free dance."