U.S. Ice Dancers Win Record Sixth National Title

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Meryl Davis and Charlie White skate in the free dance program during the 2014 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden in Boston, Jan. 11, 2014.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White have become an institution in U.S. ice dancing. Skating together since 1997, the couple won a sixth straight national championship, virtually cementing their spot on the U.S. Olympic team headed to Sochi in February.

They’ve come a long way since the days they were first put together at the Detroit Figure Skating Club when Davis was so shy, she found it hard to look White in the eyes. Their coach threatened to put a post-it on young White’s forehead for Davis to focus on.

At the TD Center in Boston on Saturday, Davis and White posted the closest thing to a perfect score for their program, receiving perfect grade of execution marks for their presentation, and only 0.25 points shy of perfection in their marks for skating skills.

They have won all of their events this season and are the reigning world champions, so international judges seem to be just as enamored of the pair. They are favorites for a gold in Sochi, part of a remarkable rebirth of ice dancing in the U.S. that has been building since the early 2000s.

“Isn’t it nice; a lot of people thought this day would never come,” says Judy Blumberg, who just missed a medal at the 1984 Olympics with partner Michael Seibert, of how American dancers are now considered among the best in world, along with the Eastern European duos.

Detroit, Michigan is the nexus of that resurgence, thanks to a cluster of coaches who have settled there, including Russian transplants Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, and their former students and American ice dancers Liz Punsalan and Jerod Swallow. The second and third-place finishers behind Davis and White — Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and the sister-brother pair of Maia and Alex Shibutani — also train in Michigan.

Together for nearly a decade, Shpilband and Zoueva in 2006 were responsible for putting the first U.S. ice dance team on an Olympic podium since 1976, when the sport debuted at the Games. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto earned silver behind Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, who were the first team from North America to win Olympic gold. Virtue and Moir were also coached by Shpilband and Zoueva.

Last year, however, that winning streak was put in jeopardy when Shpilband and Zoueva split; Shpilband was fired from his post at the Arctic Edge Figure Skating Club, and moved to nearby Novi Ice arena, where he built another program. Shpilband says being let go was a “shock,” while Zoueva says tensions over Shpilband’s desire to coach students on his own had been building. At the time, he and Zoueva were working with the world’s top teams: Virtue and Moir, Davis and White, Chock and Bates, and the Shibutanis. The skaters had a difficult decision to make: stay with Zoueva at Arctic, or move with Shpilband to Novi. Chock and Bates moved with Shpilband, and the rest remained with Zoueva.

All four teams will likely be in Sochi, ensuring that the ice dancing competition will deliver on its promise of always providing drama — both on and off the ice.