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Davis, White break the mold, claim fifth U.S. title

No more '6.0s,' but lots of perfect '10s'; Chock, Bates win silver

Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their record-tying fifth U.S. title in Omaha.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White won their record-tying fifth U.S. title in Omaha. (Jay Adeff)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(01/26/2013) - U.S. ice dancers put on a dazzling display in Omaha's CenturyLink Center on Saturday, with Meryl Davis and Charlie White reigning supreme with an intricate and entrancing free dance to music from Notre-Dame de Paris.

Skating with greater speed and flow than earlier in the season, the world silver medalists produced perfect twizzles, an elegant spin and lifts, and swift steps, all of which gained Level 4s from the technical panel.

The nine judges were also enamored, awarding the skaters mostly +3 GOEs (grades of execution) and an extraordinary 41 perfect "10s" for each of the five program components.

Davis and White earned a U.S.-record 118.42 points for their free dance, and 197.44 points overall.

"We put a lot of effort into [our program] since the Grand Prix Final, to try to make it even more special," White said. "I think we accomplished that today in our performance.

"You know us -- we're never really satisfied. We are looking forward to Four Continents and another great competition, and we're going to keep trying to improve."

The skaters and their primary coach, Marina Zoueva, enlisted several specialists to help develop the world silver medalists' programs, including Maurizio Margaglio and Jamie Whyte, experts in the pattern (compulsory) dances, and ballet dancer Alex Wong.

"We are perfectionists, and we are very hard workers," Davis said. "In improving from year to year, we seek out any help we can get. We have a really talented coaching staff, and it's really exciting to get the help from specialists.

"A lot of [our drive] is coming from within, but also, we have a deep ice dance field, and it's such an honor to be part of it and to uphold the standard we are all setting for ourselves. We really have to go above and beyond to trump ourselves."

Davis and White are so good, their coach, Marina Zoueva, thinks they've even set a new physical standard.

"In the beginning of their career, not many people thought they would be able to be world champions, because when they started out, all elite [ice dancers] were tall, long legged and a different type physically," said Zoueva, who trains the team in Canton, Mich. "And we did it. Eleven years I've worked with them, and we did it. Now, everyone thinks a petite girl is better than long and tall."

When asked if Davis and White were the best at their craft, Zoueva -- who also coaches Davis and White's main rivals, world and Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir -- demurred.

"It is very hard to say who is best because figure skating is 50 percent sport, 50 percent art," she said. "And the 50 percent art, you can't say exactly. People are different; it is subjective. But definitely, for [an] audience who love the style that Meryl and Charlie represent, they are the best."

As usual, teams trained by two coaches - Zoueva and Igor Shpilband -- dominated the podium and the three spots on the U.S. world team.

Madison Chock and Evan Bates, fifth in the U.S. last season and coached by Shpilband, moved up to second, while two-time U.S. silver medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, coached by Zoueva, finished a close third.

Chock and Bates, who teamed in the summer of 2011, had a stirring performance to the sweeping score of Dr. Zhivago, highlighted by an intricate spin, romantic waltz and Chock's elegant positions in the lifts. They gained Level 4s for every element save their circular steps, and took second in the free with 105.11 and second overall with 175.91, more than 21 points behind Davis and White.

"We were very happy with our performance, and it's been such a great season," Chock said. "We have been working very hard, and we hope to keep getting better and better from here."

The Shibutanis skated a sophisticated and subtle program to music from Memoirs of a Geisha, with a lovely opening spin and delicate transitions from element to element.

The siblings wove a dreamlike effect throughout the routine, especially a fast-turning rotational lift, but sustained a one-point deduction for holding a lift too long. This error, coupled with a similar deduction in their short dance, put them third with 174.21 points.

"We are proud of our skates this week," Alex said. "It's been a long season, but we are happy to continue on to the second half of the season. We are overall happy and proud of each other."

Zoueva shrugged off the result.

"Second, third, whatever," she said. "We have lots of stuff to put in the program, even for the next competition. I am real happy with how they did. We have lots of deductions; if they have no deductions, they are second. I will fix."

The top three finishers here will in all likelihood be sent to the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ontario, in March.

Last season's bronze medalists, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, unveiled a new and improved version of their flamenco, emphasizing their sultry chemistry and a sensual, authentic feel. While the program had superbly expressive moments, including a dramatic ending, their GOEs and program components were slightly lower than those of the top couples.

They placed fourth with 167.86.

"There are a lot of really good teams in the top, so we felt a lot of pressure today," Hubbell said. "We thought we were using it to our advantage, all of those nerves, so we're happy with what we did. We did what we came to do."

Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt gave a contemporary feel to the competition with their free dance to an Adele medley. Their unique lifts gained cheers from the crowd, and they placed fifth with 160.01.

"We were happy with our performance. We put ourselves out there and we really enjoyed it," Giulietti-Schmitt said. "All of our elements went smoothly, so we couldn't hope for anything more."