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Davis, White in command after sultry Latin short

French samba through illness; Germans take third

Meryl Davis and Charlie White opened up a big lead in the short dance.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White opened up a big lead in the short dance. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/22/2011) - As expected, Meryl Davis and Charlie White were the class of the field in tonight's Latin short dance at 2011 Skate America, earning 70.33 points for a clean, sophisticated routine set to Samba and Rumba rhythms.

The first-ever U.S. world ice dancing champions are set to coast to their second consecutive Skate America title, taking a commanding 10.26-point lead over Nathalie Pechalat and an under-the-weather Fabian Bourzat.

"We were pretty pleased with the way our short dance went tonight," Davis, 24, said. "It's still really fresh. It's early in the season."

"I think we can look forward to attacking the program a bit more," White, 23, added. "As we train it more and feel a little bit more comfortable, we'll get into character more, show off deeper edges and [improve] lots of little things."

The skaters, who trained their samba with former Dancing with the Stars pro Elena Grinenko, showed off ballroom-worthy attitude and hip action in a routine that combined two sequences of the Rumba compulsory with circular steps, twizzles and lifts.

"There's no real storyline," White said. "It's just sort of the Latin character of cat and mouse. I'm trying to get Meryl to dance with me and show that connection ... I'm very single-minded -- that's why I'm showing off my moves."

While their program components scores ranged up to 9.50 -- strong for this early in the year -- three of their elements, including the two Rumba patterns, gained just Level 3 from the technical panel. As the season progresses, it is likely these will increase to Level 4s.

Pechalat and Bourzat, the European champions from France, opened their program with a stunning curve lift, but Bourzat fell at the end of the circular step sequence, incurring a one-point deduction.

"We are not happy about tonight because of the mistake, but we enjoyed it," Pechalat said. "We said before we went on the ice, 'Let's have fun, like in practice,' but what happened, happened."

An ill Bourzat struggled to speak at the post-event press conference.

"Since I came back from the French Masters [competition] two weeks ago, I got a cold, and it turned into bronchitis," he said. "I could take no rest, and with doping control, I could not take the proper pills.

"It's still tough, but I have to come here and do the job. I am trying to do my best."

Competing at their first Grand Prix since 2007, Germans Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi took third with a sultry short dance that earned 55.66 points.

"We didn't get all of the levels we were hoping for, but, nevertheless, we are very happy," Zhiganshina said.

"The other competitors didn't get all of their levels either," Gazi added with smile.

Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who defeated the Germans at Nebelhorn Trophy last month, lost ground when their Rumba sequences gained just Levels 1 and 2. The Detroit-based team earned 49.71 points and enters the free dance in sixth place.

"Obviously, the score was not what we had hoped for; it's a significant step down from [Nebelhorn]," Hubbell said.

"We tried to get out as many times as we could early in the season and really get feedback from the technical panels. I think we will have to re-evaluate a lot."

The third American team, Isabella Cannuscio and Ian Lorello, had an expressive short dance to music by Jose Feliciano and The Champs, but Lorello fell on the twizzle sequence. They sit sixth with 42.05 points.

"It's one of those fluke things that happens, and you just have to be prepared to make the best recovery you can and keep going with the program so [that] it doesn't affect your performance," he said.