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Davis, White pull off U.S. dance title three-peat

Shibutanis take silver; Chock, Zuerlein grab bronze

Elena Grinenko gives high marks to Meryl Davis and Charlie White for their tango free dance.
Elena Grinenko gives high marks to Meryl Davis and Charlie White for their tango free dance. (Paul Harvath)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/29/2011) - It was never in doubt.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their third successive U.S. ice dance title with an intricate and speedy Argentine Tango that tested the superb technicians' on-ice connection and passion meter almost to the limit.

"We really wanted to give an emotional performance tonight, and we are in fantastic shape," White said. "It's one thing to do the athleticism but to put the emotion in the program really takes it out of you."

The free dance is chock full of eye-catching lifts and complicated steps, leaving no time for rest and little to breath. The opening straight-line lift -- with Davis wrapped lengthwise around her partner's leg -- set the tone. The duo did not put a foot wrong through their closing element, a fast rotational lift with Davis in a split position.

Davis and White earned an eye-popping 109.44 points, with mostly +2's and +3's Grades of Execution (GOEs) from the nine judges. Six of their eight elements rated Level 4; the two exceptions were the step sequences. (National-level scores tend to trend higher than international results.)

"The way we have [the free dance] at this point of season, we're putting every ounce into every aspect we're putting on the ice," Davis said. "In an athletic sense it's definitely the most tiring program we've ever had."

Davis and White won the title by 12.30 points, but the victory was hard fought. They have admitted their free dance is a stretch and tinkered with the routine throughout the season, changing the middle section of music a few weeks before Greensboro.

"I think the program has not only grown in and of itself, it's helped us grow as performers and skaters," Davis said.

"Learning to what extent we had to put the passion into the program to make it work, we knew it was something that was really going to challenge us. It's something we're already really proud of; it's exactly what we wanted to accomplish this season."

As the skaters move toward an expected showdown with their training mates, Canadian Olympic and world champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, at the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo in March, they think they are in good position to win the first-ever U.S. world ice dance title.

"We're on the right track," White said. "We still have some improvements [to make]. We need to prepare ourselves and go out and skate the program the way we know we can. The material we have has given us the best opportunity; it's refining every detail and getting the emotions and character across. We have the technical elements down."

Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani began their first season in the senior ranks with one overriding goal: "We wanted to cleanse ourselves of the junior label," said Alex.

With two Grand Prix medals last fall, the siblings have done that and more. Their coming of age continued in Greensboro with an elegant, fleet-footed program to Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" and Irving Berlin's "Let's Face the Music and Dance" that gained seven Level 4 elements and a higher technical score -- 52.34, vs. 52.16 -- than Davis and White's.

"The score doesn't matter at this point," Alex said. "We were really up for this competition and are glad to make it beyond nationals to the next two [the 2011 Four Continent Figure Skating Championships and worlds]. We're proud of how we fought through this week.

"I don't think we ever imagined the amount of success we would have this year. We're trying to stay humble."

The siblings, who like Davis and White, and Virtue and Moir, train in Canton, Mich., under Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, stepped up their games after an unexpected fourth-place finish at the 2010 junior worlds.

"There were no regrets last season; we felt we did everything in our power," Alex said. "We were disappointed and it did light a fire under us.

"Both our [technique and on-ice connection] had to progress at an equal rate; we couldn't do the same types of things [as in the past]. Maia getting three inches taller definitely improved our look on the ice."

Yet another team from Canton, Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein, claimed bronze with an entertaining routine to Cabaret that gained 92.88 points.

Overall, the 2009 world junior champions earned 154.62 points overall, more than 19 points behind the top two teams but well ahead of the rest of the field.

"Of course, we are all competitive, but our coaches handle it so well and give each of us individual attention," Chock said of training in Canton. "Marina [Zoueva] does the scheduling, I don't know how, there are so many teams. No matter what, at the end of the day we are still close friends."

Three U.S. ice dance teams will be sent to the 2011 World Figure Skating Championships in Tokyo and March, and barring injury, the top three from Greensboro will make the trip.

"The world championships were our goal this year," Zuerlein said. "Last year was our first as seniors and was tough; it was a learning experience. We're so happy we made the team with our training mates."

Madison Hubbell and Keiffer Hubbell, fifth after the short, climbed to fourth overall with a solid free dance to music from Art of Noise. Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt dropped to sixth in the free and fifth overall after both skaters fell on a lift.