The hits keep coming for Davis, White
Defending champs look to repeat in Spokane
|Meryl Davis and Charlie White have built momentum entering the 2010 U.S. Championships. (Getty Images)|
"Even though that loss was really tough to take, it did put us in a very good position this year," White said.
The young ice dancers have won four events so far this season, setting new personal bests along the way. The first U.S. team to win the Grand Prix Final, they defeated long-time rivals and training partners two-time Canadian world medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir for the second time in their senior career. Video of their Indian folk dance has gained more than 220,000 YouTube views around the globe.
Suddenly, the hottest rivalry at the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships may not be Evan vs. Johnny, but Davis and White vs. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, the five-time U.S. champions the younger duo has yet to defeat in head-to-head competition.
"Meryl and Charlie are in a very good position," Igor Shpilband, who coaches Davis and White with Marina Zoueva in Canton, Mich., said. "They have always been very strong technically; now, look at what the panel at NHK [Trophy] did, giving them in the 9's for Program Components, the highest yet."
Davis and White matched those scores at the Grand Prix Final in December, where Belbin and Agosto did not compete due to Belbin's emergency dental surgery. (The reigning world silver medalists also withdrew from the 2009 U.S. Championships, due to Agosto's back injury.) Heading into Spokane, it's clear who has the momentum.
"Charlie and I have always seen ourselves as underdogs, and I don't think that's necessarily the case this year," Davis told reporters on a teleconference earlier this week. "We're really confident, we've had a great season so far, we're really excited to go out there and compete."
"The key, whether you're the underdog or everyone expects you to win, is just to be prepared," White added. "If we can go out there and skate our best and basically let our skating do the talking, that's always been the key for us, not worrying about placement so much."
Davis, 23, and White, 22, give Belbin and Agosto their due; Davis said, "Tanith and Ben have done a lot for the sport, and they definitely kind of paved the way for success for American ice dancers." But the team's days of taking a backseat to their former training partners, who were also coached by Shpilband and Zoueva until the spring of 2008, may be over.
"We're really focused on nationals right now; it's important to us to keep our title," White said. "We've obviously, in the back of our heads, been thinking about the Olympics a bit, but most important is nationals because that's going to really set the tone for how we enter the Olympics. We'd like to be way out there, way ahead of everyone else."
The couple has made few changes to their programs since the Grand Prix Final last month, focusing on fixing the elements in their Phantom of the Opera free dance that did not gain Level 4 from the technical panel.
"We had a level dropped in a twizzle [sequence] and a spin, and we resolved those things pretty quickly when we came home," Davis said. "We knew exactly what we needed to fix. So I think that after reviewing everything carefully we feel really confident going into nationals. We shouldn't really have any further problems with our levels."
"We've been working really hard so that when we get out on the ice, it's not something we have to think about," White added. "It should just be automatic, that's the way it usually is, and I think that's how it will be at nationals as well."
Other than that, it's been steady-as-she-goes in Canton, where the focus, as always in ice dance, is on making the difficult look automatic and simple.
"We've shown all year long that our programs are really technically difficult and we've shown a lot of passion," White said. "We've done everything we needed to do to prove that we deserve to have that national title again. All we have to do now is to go out there and skate our best."