SOCHI, Russia — The ice dance teams train together in suburban Detroit, tossing world titles back and forth like jugglers. And one seems certain to win a gold medal after Monday’s free skate.
In Sunday’s short program, Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the United States moved a step closer — a fox trot and quickstep closer, to be precise — to becoming the first U.S. Olympic champions in dance.
With an elegant, effervescent and athletic performance to music from “My Fair Lady,” Davis and White scored a world record of 78.89 points and took a 2½-point lead over their training partners and chief rivals, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, the defending gold medalists. Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia took third place with 73.04 points.
At the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, White and Davis had to be satisfied with silver medals. Virtue and Moir prevailed with a more classical style and romantic approach.
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But the judges have signaled a changing of the guard at these Games.
The Americans decisively defeated the Canadians in the dance portion of the team figure skating competition a week ago. On Sunday, Davis and White were technically better on a required step sequence and prevailed on skating skills, transitions and linking footwork, performance, choreography and musical interpretation.
“They fly, they just fly,” Marina Zoueva of Russia, who coaches both dance teams, said of Davis, 27, and White, 26. “You can see they are very, very strong. At the same time, so light and flowing. You didn’t see any moment when they are forcing it.”
Davis and White grew up 10 minutes from each other outside Detroit. They have skated together for about 18 years, since they were in elementary school. Along with familiarity and comfort, they have also developed an enhanced sense of expression and musicality since finishing as runners-up in Vancouver.
“I don’t think either of us was really thinking about pushing, really, rather enjoying it, enjoying each other’s company,” White said of Sunday’s short program.
Midway through the routine, Davis said, “I just felt like I was in a dream.”
The Americans and Canadians have each won two world championships in addition to their Olympic medals. But White and Davis have not lost to Virtue and Moir over five competitions (including the Olympic team event) in the past two years.
Virtue, 24, and Moir, 26, scored 76.33 points, skating to Louis Armstrong’s “Dream a Little Dream” and Ella Fitzgerald’s “Cheek to Cheek.”