By Philip Hersh
3:50 PM PST, February 16, 2014
SOCHI, Russia — The top two ice dance teams in the world share coaches, choreographers and a rink in Canton, Mich. Separating them in competition often takes nitpicking because both are enormously skilled in the figure skating discipline where subjectivity clearly plays the biggest part.
Lately, though, reigning world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States have been clearly superior to reigning Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada in the judges' minds. Davis and White have not lost to their training partners in the last five meetings spanning two seasons.
That was the case again Sunday night in the short dance phase of the Olympic competition at the Iceberg Sports Arena.
Davis and White posted a world-record score of 78.89 points to take a lead of 2.56 over Virtue and Moir going into Monday's free dance.
If the International Skating Union had the slightest public relations sense, it would bring out a judge to help everyone understand the reasons for the difference in those scores, since ice-dancing marks are the least comprehensible of any in the sport.
But for a few self-appointed experts, everyone is left to slog through a miasma of numbers and fall back on conspiracy theories, like the reported deal that had U.S. and Russia colluding to assure the U.S. won gold in dance, the Russians in the team event and pairs.
That obtuseness winds up doing a disservice to whoever wins.
There was some nitpicking involved. A tiny mistake in one of two required short dance sequences — called Finnstep after the Finnish couple Susanna Rahkamo and Petri Kokko who created the pattern in 1995 — accounted for more than one-third of the point difference.
Moir said that without reviewing video of the performance he did not have the slightest idea what the error might have been. Whatever happened, it reduced the Canadians' base value for that element by one point.
Russians Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov are third, 3.29 behind the Canadians. The other U.S. teams — Madison Chock-Evan Bates and siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani — were eighth and ninth.
At the news conference after the short program, Moir sounded resigned to the idea that he and Virtue probably will not become the second team with two Olympic ice dance titles, following 1994-98 champions Oksana Grishuk and Evgeny Platov of Russia.
"There are a lot more elements in the free program, so it's doable, but we know the team we are sitting beside is going to bring a great skate [Monday]," Moir said.
Skating the short dance to a medley from "My Fair Lady," including the event-appropriate song, "I Could Have Danced All Night," Davis and White showed the seamless interaction between partners that has come from being a team for 17 years.
"It felt light, it felt easy, it felt like we prepared," White said. "It felt like we were just enjoying skating with one another."
Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times