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2014 U.S. National Championships

Davis and White With a Brilliant Short Dance

 by Klaus-Reinhold Kany





(10 January 2014) In the last 15 years, the general level of U.S. ice dancing has enormously risen, especially because of the different schools in the Detroit area. The man who plays the most important role in this rise is Igor Shpilband. He started in the 90ies in the Detroit Skating Club with teams like Punsalan/Swallow. He first cooperated with Elizabeth Coates, then went to nearby Canton and for many years formed a perfect partnership with Marina Zoueva. Their next very successful couple were the 2006 Olympic silver medalists Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto. When the coaches split in 2012, Zoueva stayed in Canton with the top teams and Shpilband continued his work in nearby Novi with many other teams. Meanwhile Angelika Krylova and Pasquale Camerlengo had come to the Detroit Skating Club and built up their own huge school. More than half of the best ice dance couples from all over the world are training in one of these three dance schools, and some more teams come there at least in the summer.

Thanks to these coaches, especially to Zoueva and Shpilband, and their successful skaters, the US has three dance spots in Sochi. The 2010 Olympic silver medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White are two time world champions, won every competition in 2013 and are the only big US hope for Olympic gold. At Nationals in Boston, their dynamic short dance to the musical “My Fair Lady” just was spectacular and gained 80.69 points. Nobody else in the world is able to make look a dance so easy and nevertheless extremely flowing and speedy. The jury of nine judges and the three members of the technical panel seemed to see it in the same way: All five elements got a level 4, 42 of the 45 judges’ element scores were +3 and 32 of the 45 judges’ program components were a perfect 10.0. No question that the crowd of about 5.000 spectators gave them a standing ovation.

White commented afterwards: “We were really happy with our skate today. It wasn’t 100 percent perfect but it was the best we have skated so far. Emotionally we felt really comfortable embodying those characters which is something we have been working really hard on since the Grand Prix Final.” He also explained one reason why they are so successful: “With the change in the judging system, the U.S. was able to capitalize on what the tech panel was looking for and what the judges were looking for. It came at a time when we had a lot of talent surfacing. We’re really fortunate that we had Tanith and Ben breaking the mod for us. Getting that 2006 Olympic silver, personally, made it feel like it would be possible for us. They sort of paved the way for all of us. Marina has had such a big part to play in our career and in how far we have come. It’s definitely worth mentioning. It’s not just the athletes, it’s the coaches as well.”

Davis added: “I think we’ve been putting a lot of pressure on ourselves for the technical aspect and I think we finally reached a comfort level where we can really focus on just having fun with the program, which is really what this particular program is all about and I think we feel really confident in our ability to accomplish that today. We know that this is the last outing we hope to be heading to the Olympic Games, so we want to put out performances that make us even more excited and even more confident going into the Games.” Zoueva thinks the greatest challenge until Sochi will be to keep this high level. Her Canadian top team Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir competed their short dance at Canadian nationals in Ottawa the same day. Only these two teams normally should have a chance to fight for gold in Sochi and no other couple can hope for more than a bronze medal.

Second after the short dance are Madison Chock and Evan Bates with 73.41 points, the highest score they ever had. In their lively, elegant program to “Hollywood” of the Puppini sisters and “There is no business like show business”, the 2013 silver medalists and team of Igor Shpilband also got a level 4 on all of their five elements and 12 times a +3 by the judges. The component scores had an average of 8.6. Chock’s elegance and Bates’ fast feet and flexibility matched very well. Nevertheless, it was not easy for her because two days earlier she had a bad fall in practice and crashed against the border. Chock said: “The boards are okay. I’m okay, a little sore, but the boards are definitely in worse shape than I am. My shoulders are a little store just from the impact.”

Generally they were quite satisfied. Bates said: “I got pretty excited at the end, didn’t really mean for that to come out, but sometimes, when the stakes are high, the emotions run high as well and I was just really thrilled with the performance and proud of Maddie. The elements of competition make me scream at the end of the program, but honestly, we’ve been training so well and really working hard. We’re prepared. I thought we would skate like that, but I was still really pumped at the end. I am at a loss for words.” They seem quite near their main goal, an Olympic spot. It would be Chock’s first and Bates’ second Olympic Games.

The fight for the bronze medal seemed close after the short dance. Maia and Alex Shibutani, also coached by Marina Zoueva, are third with 68.00 points, only 1.31 points ahead of Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue. The Shibutanis performed their program to a medley of Michael Bublé quite well and in good speed, but the twizzles were not in perfect harmony and three of five only got a level 3. Alex Shibutani said: “We left some points on the table. I think it’s fair to say so we are disappointed about that. But if you look at the program as a whole, we are very excited about how we are performing it. The energy level was amazing. For a Friday afternoon, the TD Garden being so full benefitted all the skaters.”

Hubbell and Zachary, who are mainly trained by Pasquale Camerlengo and Angelika Krylova, had several obstacles to overcome in the last few months, especially her longlasting painful back problems which made training difficult. They sit fourth with 66.69 points. Their short dance to different music pieces of “Big Bad Voodoo Daddy” was well and with a lot of sparkle interpreted, but they lacked a bit of speed. The twizzle sequence and the lift had a level 4, the other three elements a level 3. Hubbell explained: “There were a few little stumbles so unfortunately that took away our levels. I think we were ready to perform level 4. It was a nice warm up for us, but I think we’re really ready to go kick some ice in our free dance. I don’t think in the long run the injury slowed me down. I think you learn a lot about yourself and about your team when something like this presents itself. There were definitely bad days and some days it seemed like we would never get here, but in those times I’ve learned just how supportive Zach has been, and the love we have for each other and the love we have for our sport can’t hold me back from being here.”

Alexandra Aldridge and Daniel Eaton, who also train in the Krylova/Camerlengo school, are on fifth position with 63.71 points. Their stylish program to “The Mask” also had two level 4 and three level 3. Their highlight was the twizzle sequence. Eaton commented: “It was our favorite performance because we’re home and we’re performing for the crowd to the best of our abilities and we had a solid skate and I’m just really glad that everything worked the way it did.” Aldridge added: “It was great to finally be senior because we were junior for so long. The Grand Prixes are so motivating because you are with the top skaters in the world; it’s so surreal at first then when we were in China we kind of felt like we belong here, we are supposed to be on the Grand Prix circuit and we will do great things in the future.”

Lynn Kriengkrairut and Logan Giulietti-Schmitt of Novi are sixth with 61.22 points. They also had two level 4 and three level 3 elements, but were a bit disappointed about the judges’ points, in wich the +1 dominated. “We will fight in the free dance to move up”, Kriengkrairut said.