BOSTON – Meryl Davis and Charlie White have had a career full of firsts so it came to no one's surprise when they became the first ice dance team to win a sixth U.S. title in, once again, record-setting fashion.
Davis and White brought the packed house at TD Garden to its feet Saturday evening as they skated a free dance that earned a 119.50 — more than a point higher than the previous U.S. record, which they set at last year’s U.S. championships. The score was, essentially, a perfect score. It was the highest number they could have achieved for their program, set to Nikoli Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.”
|Meryl Davis and Charlie White perform their free dance at the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Jan. 11, 2014 in Boston.
The 2010 Olympic silver medalists started the competition by set a U.S. record in Friday night’s short dance when they earned 80.69 points, and also bested the previous total score by nearly three points with a cumulative score of 200.19.
Davis and White joined five other U.S. ice dance teams who have five titles to their name when they won last year’s championship, but their sixth win puts them in a league of their own.
“It’s such an honor for us; not only because it’s something we’ve worked hard to accomplish, but I think we feel there’s such greatness in American ice dance in the building,” Davis said. “Liz Punsalan is coaching here. Tanith Belbin is doing commentary. Ben Agosto is here. With all of those American ice dancing greats being here, it really feels like a collective effort and we feel proud to be a part of it.”
Belbin and Agosto earned silver at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games, giving Team USA its first ever Olympic silver medal in ice dance, and its first ice dance medal in 30 years.
“We’re really fortunate that we had Tanith and Ben breaking the mold for us,” White said after the short dance. “Getting that 2006 Olympic silver, personally, made it feel like it would be possible for us. They paved the way for all of us."
While Davis and White both credited Belbin and Agosto’s historic ice dance silver medal with enabling them to succeed, Belbin, who has been at the U.S. championships this week as a commentator for icenetwork, made it clear that her accomplishments in the sport do not match up with the legacy Davis and White have created.
“It’s hard for me to compare where we were to where these guys are because it’s not even the same sport anymore,” Belbin said. “I think all the time when I’m doing my commentary that if I were out there I would be not even in the top half. It’s just unbelievable where dance has come.
“I think it’s going to take us some time to step away from Meryl and Charlie’s career and really understand what they were able to accomplish for the U.S. because I think we’re so used to having them here and having them as champions, and once they retire there’s going to be a hole in hearts, not in the depth of ice dance — that’s going to be fine, we saw that today.”
Following Davis and White — and helping prove just how strong the U.S. has become in ice dance — were Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who earned silver, and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, who took bronze.
It was a repeat of last year’s U.S. championships podium, and all three teams are expected to be nominated to the U.S. Olympic Team thanks to their success both at nationals and on the international circuit. Davis and White won both grand prix competitions they entered, while Chock and Bates and the Shibutanis both earned double bronze medals in their two grand prix assignments this season.
Davis and White will go to the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games with the most to lose — or gain. Since taking silver in Vancouver four years ago to training mates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, Davis and White have gone on to win the United States its first world title in ice dance in 2011 — and then repeated that feat two years later. Last month, the Michigan natives earned a record fifth consecutive Grand Prix Final title, solidifying their spot atop the world. The next step is to achieve their longtime goal of Olympic gold.
Only this time, they will have two shots at gold. Davis and White have made it clear since the International Olympic Committee first announced figure skating’s team event would debut in Sochi that they have every intention of earning a spot on the U.S. team and helping Team USA medal in that event. Davis and White contributed to Team USA’s gold medal at the 2013 World Team Trophy, an event with a similar format to the Olympic team event.
“We’ve made it very clear that we’d be interested in doing both portions of the team event,” White said. “For us having another opportunity to compete at the Olympics is amazing in and of itself, and America is certainly poised to be in the hunt for a medal in the team event. We’re excited to hopefully be part of that team and do our best for our teammates.”
Davis and White’s coach of 12 years, Marina Zoueva, noted that their programs have grown stronger and stronger with each performance this season, and she thinks competing in the team event can only help them prepare for the ice dance competition one week later.
The 15-member U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team will be nominated Sunday, and will consist of three women, two men, two pairs and three ice dance teams. All nominations are pending approval by the United States Olympic Committee.