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 differences 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 nonstop 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.
Russia has won 18 of 33 medals in ice dance’s Olympic history, but now North Americans own two straight golds. Virtue and Moir have said they’ll likely retire. For Davis and White, talk of the future can wait until this historic victory starts feeling real.
“We wanted to fight for the best performance we could give and we did that. You dream of this for so long, work so hard, and they worked hard, too,” White said, referring to Virtue and Moir. “They always have been with us, pushing us, and we couldn’t have done it without them.”