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Davis, White edge Virtue, Moir in short dance

Dancers rumble about Rumba levels; Shibutanis sit fourth

Meryl Davis and Charlie White have the lead after the short but were frustrated with their marks.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White have the lead after the short but were frustrated with their marks. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/11/2012) - With the world championships just over six weeks away, season's best scores -- even for skaters who fall a time or two in their short programs -- abound here in Colorado Springs. Except if you have to do a Rumba.

In Saturday's short dance, none of the top four teams (arguably, four of the top five teams in the world) gained the coveted Level 4 for either of their required Rumba sequences, although all had done so at their last international competition, the Grand Prix Final in December.

One by one they entered the kiss and cry happy, only to exit with quizzical looks and shrugs of the shoulders after their technical elements scores appeared.

"It's certainly a little frustrating," said Meryl Davis, who with partner Charlie White leads archrivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir by 0.55.

"Particularly as it pertains to the Rumba, we feel stronger [here] than at competitions where we've gotten a Level 4. So it's a little bit frustrating, but we've all learned different callers are looking for different things, so it's kind of 'back to work' as always."

Kaitlin Weaver, who lies third with partner Andrew Poje, was equally diplomatic and a bit more detailed.

"We really trained the Rumba harder than ever after Canadian nationals, and to see the levels being lower is a little frustrating," she said. "Every caller has a different objective they are looking for mainly. We have to go back and work on the gray areas."

While "callers" -- members of the technical panel who review each element and assign levels of achievement, from one (lowest) to four (highest) -- are supposed to use the same published criteria when analyzing elements, in this case, it seems the variation from event to event is greater than the norm.

(For the record, the three-person panel here includes technical controller Christopher Buchanan of Great Britain; technical specialist Shae Zukiwsky, a former Canadian competitor; and assistant technical specialist Judy Blumberg, the five-time U.S. ice dancing champion.)

"The different things can be the width of the feet, stepping right on to the outside edge for the choctaw [step]," Weaver said. "It can be where the placement of the foot is, it can be the second choctaw -- there are so many things to think about.

"It's not just a bracket, for example, like [the Golden Waltz] last year, inside-outside [edges], and then you're clear."

Rumba levels aside, world champions Davis and White were pleased with their performance to Samba and Rumba rhythms, including Jennifer Lopez's "On the Floor." Their opening twizzle sequence flew across the ice, and their final element, a curve lift with Davis balanced on White's thighs, built excitement.

They earned 72.15 points, well under their personal-best 76.17 earned at the Grand Prix Final.

"The characters were better portrayed [than previously]," White said. "Technically, the levels weren't what we wanted.

"You can't be mad at the callers. They're doing it consistently across the board. From competition to competition, I think the callers sort of focus in on different things, so after the competition we'll try to figure out exactly what went wrong. They're just doing their job."

Their Canton, Mich., training partners, Virtue and Moir, showed a steamy Rumba to Diana Krall's "Temptation," but the Canadian Olympic champions lost ground when Moir had a slight slip on the circle steps toward the end of the program.

They enter the free dance with 71.60 points.

"Performance-wise, it was a step up, particularly the first two-thirds of the program," Virtue said. "I think we lost a little on the circular footwork to the end. We know where we can make up a lot of points there. I think it's definitely building in the right direction."

Asked his opinion of the Rumba levels, Moir lived up to his reputation as the most forthright member of the Canton quartet.

"One little turn from 1964 [actually, the Rumba was created in London in 1938] is worth so many points in 2012, so you have to dumb down your program a little bit to put the Rumba in, to be honest," he said. "That's how I feel. I think that's the challenge with some of these older, simpler pattern dances, versus the Golden Waltz or Tango Romantica."

Weaver and Poje, the Canadian silver medalists who placed fifth in the world last season, showed the sexiest, most sensual program of the afternoon but gained just Level 2 for their Rumba sequences.

They bring 64.23 points to the free dance.

"I think this was one of our better performances this season," Weaver said. "We started out a little wobbly on the Rumba patterns at the beginning, but we were able to forget about that and really build to the end. That's one of the harder things to do with this rhythm, have energy the whole way through."

In the weeks prior to Four Continents, Weaver and Poje were drilled relentlessly in the Rumba by one of their coaches in Detroit, two-time world ice dancing champion Anjelika Krylova. Nevertheless, it will be back to the drawing board when they return home.

"I think that the tough callers make things better, make things stronger," Weaver said. "We won't relax and think it makes us push harder because you never know who you are going to get as a caller."

Even U.S. silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, the world bronze medalists who improved their short dance from top to bottom prior to the 2012 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, failed to gain a season's best score. The siblings showed a smooth and speedy Rumba to "Girl from Ipanema" before ramping up the excitement and closing their program with a Brazilian Samba and speedy rotational lift.

Their 63.38 points and fourth-place finish were lustily booed by the crowd.

As usual, the siblings -- who like Davis and White, and Virtue and Moir train in Canton, Mich., under Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva -- looked on the minor setback as just another opportunity to improve.

"I think it's another good experience for us," Alex said. "We want the judges to be tough because then we know what we have to work on when we get home and be ready for the world championships."

"It is great preparations for worlds," Maia said. "I think this is a very good experience for us, and we're looking forward to the rest of the season, especially tomorrow."

U.S. bronze medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who like Weaver and Poje train in Detroit under a team including Krylova, Pasquale Camerlengo and Massimo Scali, lost momentum when Donohue fell on their opening element, the circle steps. On the bright side, they were one of only two teams in the event (China's Xiaoyang Yu and Chen Wang being the other) to earn Level 4 on one of their Rumba sequences.

"It obviously was a pretty poor performance," Hubbell said. "We really worked hard, and we felt like we made significant improvements on our short dance, and I think we displayed those in the practices. Unfortunately, we went out there today, and it didn't click.

"We are going take today as today, rest tonight and come back and fight tomorrow."