Winter Olympics: U.S. pair golden in ice dance
SOCHI, Russia Through 17 years of grueling practices, of defeats and victories, Meryl Davis and Charlie White insist they’ve never considered parting ways.
A perfect pairing, they were nearly flawless at the Sochi Olympics, and on Monday they became the first Americans to win an ice dance gold medal.
“The closest we came to breaking up, I can’t pinpoint one because there hasn’t been one,” Davis, 27, said. “Certainly, there have been struggles. It hasn’t been easy to get where we are. … It’s a partnership which I couldn’t have asked for more.
“Charlie and I are very different. We used those difference to balance it out. There has never been a moment of doubt.”
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, the 2010 champions, took silver, while bronze went to Russia’s Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov.
Davis and White won silver in Vancouver, but in the four years since they have overtaken the Canadians, their training partners in Detroit under Russian coach Marina Zoueva.
The reigning world champs scored 116.63 points in the free dance to finish with 195.52, 4.53 ahead of Virtue and Moir.
“No athletes like it to sit in this position,” Moir said. “We came here to win the competition. But it’s easier when we see them and know how hard these guys work.”
When their program to “Sheherazade” ended with White on a knee, Davis rested her head on his back in exhausted elation. The two started skating together in 1997 in Michigan, and on the biggest day of their career, they performed just as they had visualized it.
“That in itself justified 17 years of hard work,” White, 26, said.
The music swelling over the final minute of the program, their feet were in non-stop motion, yet every step was intricately choreographed. Their lifts were a blur as White spun across the ice with Davis held aloft, their movements and expressions still fierce despite the draining demands of the performance.
As they told the story of the Persian king and the woman who enchants him, White was regal in purple velvet, Davis beguiling in a lavender dress with jewels shimmering on her midriff.
They now have one medal of each color after winning bronze in the new team event in Sochi, the first American figure skaters to own three.
Virtue and Moir had become the first North American ice dance gold medalists at their home Olympics in Vancouver. Their free dance to Russian classical music told the story of their own partnership, which also stretches back to 1997.
In a performance at times tender and at others triumphant, Moir kissed her hand at the start and again throughout the program.
“I think there is relief,” Moir said. “It has been a journey to get here since 2010, a lot of sleepless nights to get to the Olympic Games. If I could only have been that 22-year-old at Vancouver.
“The reason we stayed in is we wanted a different journey. Now, the pressures of this game are just melting away.”
Ilinykh and Katsalapov were just ninth at last year’s world championships, but are now the latest Olympic ice dance medalists from Russia, finishing 7.51 points behind the Canadians. She’s only 19; he’s 22. The home fans started cheering when the first few notes of “Swan Lake” played for their free dance, and they were roaring when it ended with Katsalapov collapsed on his knees and Ilinykh weeping.
“The program builds and builds and builds,” Katsalapov said through a translator, “and the audience gave us energy to keep building it more and more.”
France’s Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat were fourth, 6.26 points out of bronze. The other U.S. teams, Madison Chock and Evan Bates and siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, finished eighth and ninth, respectively.
Russia has won 18 of 33 medals in ice dance’s Olympic history, but now North Americans own two straight golds.
The United States and Canada will play for the women’s hockey gold medal for the fourth time in the five Olympics since the sport was added to the Winter Games.
“We feel like we’ve prepared all year for this game,” said Natalie Spooner, who scored twice in a 3-1 win against Switzerland to put Canada in the Olympic final.
The U.S. joined them by beating Sweden, 6-1. The teams have two days off to prepare for a rematch of the 1998, 2002 and 2010 gold medal games.
“The last four years, that’s been our goal,” said U.S. forward Julie Chu, a former Union College assistant coach and a four-time Olympian who has two silver medals and a bronze. “We’re going for a different color this time.”
Megan Bozek and Brianna Decker each had a goal and two assists as the Americans outshot Sweden, 70-9. The U.S. has medaled in every Winter Games since women’s hockey was added to the Olympic program in 1998, and just once — with a loss to Sweden in the 2006 semifinals — failed to reach the championship game.
Canada, the three-time defending champion that has played in every Olympic final, will have a chance for a fourth straight gold after beating Switzerland.
Canada and the United States played seven times in the run-up to the Olympics, with the Americans going 4-3.
There are 11 players on the U.S. roster who played in the gold-medal game in Vancouver, but Chu is the only one who was also on the team in Salt Lake City or Turin. Coach Katey Stone would like to see her get the gold medal.
“It’s about time, isn’t it? It’s time,” said Stone, who was also Chu’s coach at Harvard. “Julie’s been everything to the program, she’s been a youngster, she’s been a veteran … she’s been a mother to the younger kids. Kids like that don’t come around all the time. She’s a special one. I certainly hope she gets what she wants.”
A Belarussian woman made Olympic history by becoming the first female ever to win three biathlon titles at the same games, and one of her teammates captured the men’s freestyle skiing aerials competition to complete a gold-medal sweep on the event.
Anton Kushnir nailed a near-perfect landing after a “back double full-full-double full” jump — five twists packed into three head-over-heels flips while soaring 50 feet off the ramp and into the night sky.
Darya Domracheva won her third biathlon title when she left a field of elite racers far behind to capture gold in the 12.5-kilometer mass start.
Russia’s winning two-man bobsled had Alexander Zubkov driving and Alexey Voevoda as the brakeman.
The Swiss team of Beat Hefti and Alex Baumann took silver, and the U.S. earned bronze, with Steven Holcomb driving and Steven Langton as brakeman. It was the first two-man bobsled medal for the U.S. in more than a half-century.
Holcomb and Langton gave the U.S. its fourth sliding medal so far, a total that exceeds the three the Americans combined to win in Turin in 2006 and Vancouver in 2010.
With women’s bobsled and four-man bobsled still remaining, and the Americans expected to vie for golds in both, the U.S. has to be thinking its total will grow before the Sochi cauldron is extinguished.
“What Holcomb has done is unbelievable for the sport,” USA-3 pilot Nick Cunningham said. “He’s put USA Bobsled on the international map.”
China beat Britain, 6-5, to qualify for the semifinals in men’s curling.
The loss forced Britain into a tiebreaker against Norway today for the final spot in the playoffs. Canada and Sweden advanced on Sunday.
In the women’s tournament, Switzerland and Britain advanced to the semifinals, joining Canada and Sweden.