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Davis, White show off new moves, set record

Shibutanis re-vamp short dance; Hubbell, Donohue sit third

Meryl Davis and Charlie White posted the highest short dance score ever.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White posted the highest short dance score ever. (Tom Briglia)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/27/2012) - Marina Zoueva will use every trick in her book to keep her teams on top.

So when a through-the-legs, scoop-up lift she devised for Meryl Davis and Charlie White's The Phantom of the Opera free dance went unused, she added it to the end of this season's Latin American short dance. The result: excitement.

"This was the first time they performed this trick," said Zoueva, who with Igor Shpilband coaches the world ice dance champions in Canton, Mich. "We didn't even show it at the practices. We wanted to it to be a surprise, to see the people's reaction, the judges' reaction, and it looks like they have the highest score ever for a short dance."

White thought it was quite effective.

"With Latin, you can never really do too much," he said.

To the judges, Davis and White's electric performance to samba and rumba rhythms was more than enough. Four of their five elements gained Level 4; the opposite side rumba sequence gained Level 3. The three-time U.S. champions scored 76.89 points, and Zoueva is correct: It is the highest short dance score ever recorded.

"We think everything went well," Davis said. "The technical aspect of the program we felt quite comfortable with, and we continue to work on it, but we want to make sure we're exuding the excitement throughout the program."

"We're just trying to build on that [excitement] whenever we go out there," White said. "We definitely felt like we've grown a lot through the season."

Shpilband called it their finest performance of the program to date.

"I'm really happy with how they skated," said Shpilband, who arrived in San Jose fresh from coaching his Lithuanian team at the European Championships. "Everything was technically clean, better than the Grand Prix Final. I don't know what their levels are yet, but for me, they were better here."

Davis and White's training partners, Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, hit the ball out of the park with a re-vamped short dance that brought a speedy new dynamism to their skating. All five of their elements gained Level 4, and their 72.61 score is 4.28 points off the lead.

"It is a brand new program for us," Alex said. "This is the first time we're competing it. We wanted to take this opportunity to go out and attack, because hopefully the rest of the season, we want to build from here."

"We felt we had outgrown our old program," Maia said. "We talked about it with our coaches, and we brought in [ballroom dance pro] Corky Ballas, whom we worked with extensively this season. It was a good change for us to push ourselves and keep growing."

Zoueva said she would have changed the program sooner, had there been time.

"I knew after [the] first competition, it was too slow," she said. "They put in extra energy and skated nice and clean."

There was a distance of 14.65 points between the top two teams and the rest of the field.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue gained a leg up on the bronze medal and presumed third U.S. dance spot at worlds with a sexy short dance that featured a liquid and slinky rumba, and then closed with a freewheeling samba. Although they gained just Level 1 on their judges' side rumba sequence, their Level 4 straight-line lift included an exciting drop-out change of position.

The skaters, who train at the Detroit Skating Club under a team of coaches headed by Pasquale Camerlengo, earned 57.56 points.

"The performance was pretty good," said Hubbell, who teamed with Donohue last spring after her longtime partner, brother Keiffer, took a break from skating. "At the end of the day, we fought for it. It wasn't the easiest performance -- some little bobbles, we held each other up in a few places -- but that's what partners are for."

Both skaters think their free dance, choreographed to "You Put a Spell on Me," is their stronger suit.

"It's a relief to get the short dance done," Donohue said. "I'm looking forward to the free dance, a little more relaxed, less pressure, knowing we are confident and solid."

Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Guilietti-Schmitt's sophisticated program had a genuine Latin feel and gained 56.37 points, putting them just 1.19 points out of bronze-medal position.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who, like the top two teams, train in Canton, are fifth with 55.49 points. Although their superb straight-line lift gained Level 4, several other elements were rated Level 2.

"It definitely was a skate that we worked through," said Bates, who partnered up with Chock last summer after her previous partner, Greg Zuerlein, retired. "Not everything came easily and naturally, but in the short time we spent together, it's to be expected. In the circumstances, we did a good job."