HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. -- For the first time in five years, Meryl Davis and Charlie White did not take to the ice when the final group was called for the short dance at Hilton HHonors Skate America. They were, instead, watching from the stands after deciding to take the season off from competition.
The absence of the United States’ greatest ice dance team of all time might have caused some Team USA fans to worry. But any doubt that existed was quickly washed away when U.S. ice dance teams Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani competed Friday night. Chock and Bates, and the Shib Sibs finished the night in first and second position, picking up right where Davis and White left off.
The four 2014 Olympians who skated in the shadows of Davis and White for the past four years are hoping Friday’s success sets them up for an impressive season and, hopefully, quadrennium.
“With Meryl and Charlie we got a firsthand experience of what it’s like to be the elite team in the world,” Bates said. “We had an opportunity to train alongside them but also compete against them and I think especially our experience in Sochi with them was inspiring, more than anything, and this summer for us was a summer of growth.
“I think a large part of our determination came from seeing them win an Olympic gold medal and wanting the same for ourselves in four years.”
Davis and White have remained very visible in the Shibutanis’ lives, continuing to skate on the ice they share in Canton, Michigan, under coach Marina Zoueva as the Olympic champions train for shows. White has also taken up a mentor role for the Shibutanis.
“Charlie’s kind of taken a step in this year and we’re very thankful for that and for his leadership,” Alex Shibutani said. “He’s helped us a lot along the way this summer and I think we can always depend on Meryl and Charlie for advice going forward.”
Going into Saturday’s free dance, Chock and Bates lead with 68.96, ahead of the Shibutanis’ 64.14. Russians Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin are nearly eight points behind the Shibutanis with 56.37.
The Shibutanis had a mistake on their synchronized twizzle sequence, their first element of the night. Alex called it a “weird, fluky thing,” remaining confident that their twizzles are “some of the best in the world” and that nothing would change their approach for the free dance.
U.S. Men Hold Their Own On World Stage
|Jeremy Abbott skates during the men's short program at 2014 Hilton HHonors Skate America on Oct. 24, 2014 in Hoffman Estates, Illinois.|
Not to be outdone by their ice dancing compatriots, the men of Team USA also made their grand prix season debuts with a “best-in-the-world” mentality. Coming off a season where both 2014 U.S. men’s figure skating Olympians contributed to Team USA’s bronze medal in the team event, Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown finished the men’s short program in second and third position, behind Japan’s Tatsuki Machida.
While Machida, the reigning world silver medalist, was light-years ahead of the Americans with 93.39 points, Abbott and Brown held their own with 81.82 and 79.75, respectively.
In his eighth season on the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating circuit, Abbott skated an admittedly conservative short program to Sam Smith’s “Lay Me Down,” which he choreographed himself. Abbott took advantage of the new rule allowing singles skaters to use lyrics in their music for the first time this season.
“I like having the lyrics,” Abbott said after debuting his short program. “It makes it feel a little more ‘at home’ and I love this program, which also really helps. I did it myself so it feels second nature, even though it’s brand new.”
The reigning U.S. champion said he plans to spend the next four weeks perfecting his quad toe before his next grand prix assignment, NHK Trophy in Osaka, Japan.
“There’s a possibility to have even more points than what was there,” said Abbott, who also had a bobble on his triple Axel. “I feel good and I’m building slowly and steadily.”
Jason Brown’s program also was not without flaw. Brown fell on his opening triple Axel but impressed the crowd, his coach and himself by picking himself up and skating the rest of the program as if the fall never happened.
“Sometimes you do fall,” Brown said, “but I think that once I fell I made a decision to get up and try to get every single last point I could out of the rest of my program. … I was able to do that, so in that I feel successful.”
Brown hails from Highland Park, Illinois, and though he relocated to Colorado Springs, Colorado, prior to last season, he relished the opportunity to skate in such a high-level event in front of a hometown crowd.
The 19-year-old said he could identify specific voices of friends and family members who were cheering him on.
“Oh my gosh, they were the best,” Brown said. “I couldn’t have asked for a better crowd, really. The support, the love — it was really just awesome. I was so excited to be out there and to be part of that.”