The United States won its first Olympic gold medal in ice dancing as Meryl Davis and Charlie White dethroned rinkmates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, the defending champions.
All 14 of the previous figure skating gold medals won by the U.S. had come in singles – seven apiece for men and ladies. In Sochi, however, the best U.S. men’s finish was ninth while the women, skating later this week, are expected to have only an outside chance at the podium.
The victory by Davis and White could not have come at a more opportune time for Team USA, which now has five gold medals at the 2014 Winter Olympics.
Partners for 17 years, Davis and White won the silver medal in 2010 behind the Canadians, who are based at the same suburban Detroit rink and share the same coach.
"We’re training alongside these guys, pushing each other every day," Davis said.
For many years, ice dancing was the weakest among the skating disciplines in the U.S.
When it made its Olympic debut in 1976 in Innsbruck, Colleen O’Connor and James Millns won the bronze for the U.S. Yet no Americans danced their way onto the podium again until Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto won the silver medal in Turin in 2006, and that was only after Belbin got U.S. citizenship thanks to a special act of Congress signed by President George W. Bush.
Davis and White became the first U.S. team to win the World Championships in 2011. Along with Virtue and Moir, their creativity and style have helped the sport evolve. Both teams say they have benefitted from the new scoring system that came into effect in 2004.
"It does give ice dancing more credibility," Moir said. "You’re seeing more of an athletic sport."
For the last few years, the rival North American teams have never lost to anyone except each other.
As a sign of just how competitive they are, Moir called out "First!" when he arrived at the post-event press conference. However, he was told the bronze-medal winning Russians had already finished.
All of the medalists had already performed their free skate in the inaugural team event, with Russia winning gold, Canada silver, and the United States bronze.
Davis and White, who set a world record in the short program, also won the free skate with their performance to "Scheherazade." Skating last, they scored 116.63 points, their best mark of the season and well ahead of Virtue and Moir, who waltzed to a season-high score of 114.66. Elena Ilinkyk and Nikita Katsalapov, emoting to "Swan Lake," won the bronze medal with 110.44 points.
Russia has now won six consecutive medals in ice dancing, the longest streak by the country in any event at the Winter Games.
The Iceberg Skating Palace was full Monday night, with plenty of Russian flags unfurling. Spectators roared for the three Russian couples among the 20 teams, with a few horns adding to the din.
The crowd was generous in its applause for the other couples, too.
Written by Karen Rosen
Homepage photo: Getty Images
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