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'Love' powers Davis, White to Skate America gold

American dance duo wins event for third straight year; Russians Bobrova, Soloviev snag silver

Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White have not lost a Grand Prix Series event since 2008.
Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White have not lost a Grand Prix Series event since 2008. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(10/21/2012) - After a world title, Olympic silver medal and four U.S. titles, Meryl Davis and Charlie White think they're finally firing on all emotional cylinders.

"In our programs this season, particularly the free dance, you'll see that connection, that kind of chemistry you can cut with a knife," Davis said. "We've been working on it for years, and I think we've finally found it."

"We've been working on our chemistry and emotion, trying to bring that up to our athletic level, which has always been top notch," White said. "We're trying to be that complete team ... This offseason it clicked, especially with the choreography we have and the intense work we did with Marina [Zoueva]."

Teamed in 1997, Davis and White put every drop of experience to work creating their free dance to Notre-Dame de Paris, the French Canadian musical based on Victor Hugo's tale of a hunchback's hopeless love for a beautiful gypsy. From the opening intricate spin through each movement and step sequence, they wove a seamless spell of emotion and storytelling, climaxing with three striking lifts at Skate America.

"We spent a lot of time researching and playing with lifts that we felt would evoke the emotions of the program," Davis said. "It's a very character-driven piece. What we didn't want was to come in and have a really great program that continued to break with each element we put on to the ice. We wanted to make sure it was a very continuous story, and we were using the elements to highlight that, not to take away from it."

White was slightly off-balance entering their twizzle sequence, which rated Level 3, and their diagonal and circular steps gained Levels 3 and 2, respectively. Five other elements rated Level 4, and they earned 104.89 points for their free dance's debut. All told, they won their third consecutive Skate America title with 176.28 points, more than 16 points ahead of the field.

"The emotion, that's the main thing," Zoueva said. "This year, especially, it comes from them. They have great relations [on the ice]; they are acting like a man and woman, skating heart to heart. It's new; it's very dramatic."

The coach and choreographer, who trains Davis and White with Oleg Epstein, has titled the program "Hymn of Love."

"Love for each other helps people have a good life, no matter how difficult it is," she said. "Their love makes them feel the same as people who have [comfortable] lives."

Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev, Russia's two-time and reigning European silver medalists, put their emotions on display in an intense program set to Apollo 440's "Man with a Harmonica" and Puccini's Tosca that tells the tale of a depressed man struggling to save himself and his girlfriend from despair.

Since leaving long-time coaches Elena Kustarova and Svetlana Alexeeva to work with Alexander Zhulin's team in Moscow, they have changed both their technique and mental preparation, and it showed in their marks. The Russians gained six Level 4 elements, the most of the competition, and earned 97.04 points for the free dance to finish with 159.95 overall and win the silver medal.

"First of all, he is a man, and the male perspective is different, and the whole mental preparation is different for us," Soloviev said. "As a result, we started to be much calmer, so I think this psychological side had a strong impact. The technique is completely different, also."

"It was not easy [to make the change] as we had been with our previous coaches for 12 years, from the very beginning," Bobrova said. "We are very grateful to them for what they did for us. Working with Zhulin is completely different for us, and we are really enjoying what we are doing."

Canadian silver medalists Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won over the crowd with their free dance to Nathan Lanier's "Humanity in Motion," with Poje playing an artist and Weaver the sculpture he brings to life. But small missteps cost them big on levels, dropping their spin, circular steps and diagonal steps to Level 2. They placed third in the free and third overall with 157.32 points.

"It wasn't our cleanest performance; it was marred by little mistakes that added up in the end," Weaver said. "There was no major mistake; it was just little things and things we know how to do easily. That definitely is not going to happen again because we don't want to have to see [those levels] on the protocol. That's what will drive us to have a big push at Cup of China."

"In the circle, I felt a little off. It was one of those days, and sometimes those little funky things happen," Poje said. "We will go back and work on it, and it will never happen again."

Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt had their highest-ever Grand Prix finish, placing fourth after an entertaining free dance to Adele's "Turning Tables" and "Rumour Has It" that was highlighted by a series of risky lifts. They earned 141.41 points.

The skaters, who train in Ann Arbor, Mich., under Yaroslava Nechaeva and Yuri Chesnichenko, were concerned about skating to two of the popular British songstress' biggest hits, but eventually threw caution to the wind.

"We were a little worried about it with Adele's recent popularity, about over-playing on the radio and everything," Giulietti-Schmitt said.

"We thought the two songs really blended together well and we kept coming back to it when we were listening to different pieces of music," Kriengkrairut said. "These were the ones that really spoke to us."

Anastasia Cannuscio and Colin McManus got the crowd going with their bluesy rock medley to "Please Mr. Jailer" and "Jailhouse Rock," and gained Level 4s for all four of their lifts. They placed seventh with 122.37 points.

"We had a little bobble on one of the lifts that was over-timed, but everything else felt really strong," Cannuscio said. "We got most of the levels we wanted on our other elements, so we're happy."

"We really want to start pushing the footwork to try to get above a Level 2," McManus said. "We want to go for the threes and fours in the footwork. It seems like all the changes that we made since Salt Lake City have been great. We got a higher technical score here than we did in Salt Lake (at the 2012 U.S. International Classic), which is a good compliment for us."