The Ice Dancing favorites quickly sucked out all the drama for first and second at the 2010 U.S. Figure Championships during the Seniors compulsory dance Thursday at the Spokane Arena.
Oh, there’s this business of crowning the national championship pair, but even that may be decided after the personal-best performance put on by defending champs Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
With Davis and White and five-time champs Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto considered locks for the top two spots, the story within the story is the chase for third and the final berth to the Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
As the 15 teams skated to the theme “The Golden Waltz,” Davis and White received 45.42 points, .40 ahead of Belbin of Agosto.
Nearly eight points back were Kim Navarro and Brent Bommentre (37.60). On their heels are Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates (37.36), who were the Junior champs when the nationals were in Spokane three years ago.
Making the last spot a four-team battle are the brother/sister combination of Madison and Keiffer Hubbell (34.33) and Madison Chock and Greg Zuerlein (34.12).
The competition continues tonight with original dance and concludes Saturday with free dance.
Davis, donning an eggplant plum-colored dress, and White, in a black tuxedo and tails with a white bow tie, glided seemingly effortlessly around the ice in a ballroom dance style. Some thought the top scores would have been reversed in compulsory.
“We’ve been working tremendously hard on this dance – harder than we’ve ever worked on any compulsory in the past,” said Davis, who, along with White, train in Canton, Mich. “I think that a couple of weeks ago we started to feel really confident. So coming into nationals, we were really excited to get out there and compete it.”
It’s the best the pair have performed in compulsory, one of their coaches said.
“To me it was absolutely flawless,” Igor Shpilband said. “They’ve worked so hard on this dance. The goal was to attack it. It was one of the best Golden Waltzes I’ve ever seen. They’re looking at this nationals as a stepping stone and they want to prove that they’re the best in the world.”
White was asked if the effort now sheds an underdog tag.
“No, I think it just confirms that we’ve been working really, really hard,” he said. “The judges rewarded us for what we did out there.”
Even if it’s a foregone conclusion that they’re Vancouver bound, Davis and White want nothing less than a second consecutive national title.
“It’s very important to finish first,” White said. “You want to go into the Olympics as the top U.S. team. That means a lot to everyone across the world. We don’t want to go in as just having made it. We’re going for Olympic gold so we want to be in as one of the top dogs.”
Belbin and Agosto, 2006 Olympic silver medalists who train in Aston, Pa., were pleased with their opening skate.
“We were really happy to feel like we were just able to skate like we always do back home,” Agosto said.
Belbin, stunning in an aqua-colored dress, agreed.
“We need to go all out in this competition if we want to come out on top,” she said. “Not only that, we need to use this competition as sort of our final practice before the Olympic Games. If we’re not going to go – excuse my language – balls out here, it’s too late. If we go full out here and have bobbles, that’s better than holding back and being clean.”
Navarro, who wore a reddish-orange dress, and Bommentre, the reigning two-time U.S. bronze medalists, said they’ve tried to focus more on skating and less on results despite this being an Olympic year.
“It (their focus) hasn’t changed, but it’s been more difficult to do because of that thing that’s on everyone’s mind and, of course, on ours as well,” Navarro said. “We know that’s not the team that we are. We just want to be ourselves and do what we do and hope the result falls into place the way that we would want it to.”
The warmest and loudest applause went to Samuelson and Bates.
“The crowd is awesome. It’s like 10:30 in the morning and there’s like thousands of people in the stands for compulsory dance,” Bates said.
Samuelson, who wore a vivid white dress, thought she and Bates improved measurably over the last time they performed to a waltz.
“We’ve been working a lot on the flow through the dance,” she said. “It seemed like it came together out there.”
Even the favorites talked about the inevitable conclusion.
“I think regardless in what order we finish – one-two here with Meryl and Charlie, assuming that’s where we finally end up – we’ll be close and we’ll still go in as medal contenders at the Olympics,” Belbin said.