Meryl Davis admitted she was a little nervous before she stepped out on the Olympic ice tonight. This moment, after all, was 16 years in the making and has gold-medal implications.
“But I felt great by the time the music started,” she said.
More importantly, by the time the music ended, she and longtime ice dance partner Charlie White were in first place.
Davis and White lead their biggest rivals, Canada’s reigning Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, by 2.56 points — a large margin in ice dance — and are now halfway toward their goal of becoming the first American team to win an Olympic gold medal in this event. The free dance is Monday night.
“I think we were really in the moment enjoying it,” Davis said. “I don't think I was ever really thinking about pushing, really, but rather enjoying it and enjoying each other's company out there. So it was really special for us. But we've trained this program so hard and Marina has done such a great job of preparing us both physically and mentally, emotionally for that moment that we can really focus on the performance and letting the skating kind of go for itself.”
Buoyed by the home-country support in the Iceberg Skating Palace, the Russian team of Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov are in third place with 73.04 points.
In addition to Davis and White, there are two other American teams competing in Sochi, both of which train in Michigan. Madison Chock and her partner, two-time Olympian Evan Bates, who work with coach Igor Shpilband, are in eighth (65.46). The sister-brother team of Maia and Alex Shibutani, who train alongside of Davis and White, are in ninth (64.47).
Davis and White have been the most dominant team in the sport for the last couple of years, winning every competition they have entered, including the 2013 World Championships, which marked the second world title in their career. They earned a silver medal four years ago in Vancouver and have been the heavy favorites coming into Sochi.
The team that posed the biggest threat to their gold-medal hopes is that of Virtue and Moir, with whom they train. Both teams practice in Canton, Mich., outside of Detroit, and they share the same coach in Marina Zoueva, a Russian native who left her homeland in 1991.
And both teams are after the same goal: a gold medal.
Based on the marks judges gave the teams tonight, it is apparent that Virtue and Moir have their work cut out for them if they want to defend their Olympic crown. They received a lower level for one of their required dance steps and their marks for artistry were slightly lower as well.
“We feel like we can make it up,” Moir said. “There are a lot more elements in the free dance but we know the team sitting beside us is going to bring a great skate tomorrow.”
Consistency has been the key to Davis and White’s success, and there’s no reason to believe they will veer from the course they have traveled the past couple of years now.
“We were really focused on the moment and the task at hand,” White said. “We were not looking to the future or the color of medals. A lot of the success we’ve had is from staying centered.”
Davis and White will perform their free dance to music from Sheherazade, a piece composed (appropriately so for these Winter Games in Sochi) by Russian Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov. Davis and White already have performed their free dance once here during the team event. They won that portion of the competition and helped earn Team USA a bronze medal.
So now they own Olympic silver and bronze medals.
The only one remaining, of course, is gold.
Amy Rosewater is a freelance writer and editor for TeamUSA.org. A former sports reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer, she is covering her fifth Olympic Games in Sochi. Her work has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post and USA Today.