The 2011 edition of the World Championships concluded in what I must say was mighty fine fashion. The ice dance event was the only thing I didn’t get to see live, so I was forced to watch the final group later. As I didn’t have a real solid grasp on the whole event, we’ll focus on the top four.
Obviously, the expected podium consisted of Virtue and Moir, Davis and White, and Pechalat and Bourzat. After the short dance, that was solidly in tact. Then the free dance happened.
The French team has one of my favorite programs of the year. The character they bring to the Charlie Chaplin medley is riveting. They skate with charm at a level so high it’s hard to compare it. Yet, world titles aren’t won on charm. A freak fall about half way through ultimately cost them their spot on the podium.
With that door open, someone had a chance to step up and move up. The home crowd hoped it would be the Russian team of Bobrova and Soloveiv, but that was not to be. Instead, American fans held their breath as the Shibutanis gave it their best shot.
They have proven time after time that this program takes the very best of dance and combines it with the very best of skating. It may not have the “wow factor” that some top teams have, and it may not push the envelope technically, but is skating and dancing at it very best. They certainly did not disappoint here. They pulled in their highest scores of the season, and in the process, created one of the best moments of the event. Their scores went up, and they looked quite satisfied. However, they didn’t seem to know that Nathalie and Fabian fell just moments earlier. When they saw the placement go up, Maia’s jaw hit the floor, and Alex just stared. Then, perhaps the line of the event, when their coach said, “Now, you’re going to win a medal…don’t have a heart attack.” Beautiful!
But, of course, the real show down was yet to come. Virtue and Moir skated first. This would be the first time they completely performed this Samba free skate in front of judges. That’s a risky move, especially with something this different. Despite the raving reviews from the glimpses some had seen, no one knew how it would hold up in competition.
It was good. It was very different, very gutsy, and incredibly challenging. There is more chemistry between these two than anyone else on ice, and this program shows that off. That said, it wasn’t spectacular. It was a bit choppy, unpolished. With a full season of competition experience, it might have been enough. But as good as tehy are, this didn’t highlight the extent of their skill. Still, they earned a free dance score that was roughly five points higher than Davis/White’s season best.
Meryl and Charlie took the ice bearing the weight of history on their shoulders. They downplayed it all week, but there was no denying they wanted that title, for themselves, but also for US ice dance. If they could pull it off, they would become the first American ice dance team to ever win gold at a world championship. Skating a program as complex and intricate as this tango under that kind of pressure? No thanks.
But they did. And they MORE than managed. They were brilliant.
I have said all season, I’ve had a hard time buying this program from them. I’ve always been left feeling a bit like “That was…it?” Not so this time. Perhaps it wasn’t the most passionate free dance ever. Maybe their tango didn’t have teh connection between the two of them. But what they were connected to was the intensity of the moment. They stepped on the ice primed to win, and they owned it from the moment the music began, until they struck the final pose.
They were very composed in the Kiss and Cry, but you could see the emotion begin to swell, especially in Meryl’s eyes. They did it. They battled all season long with themselves to get to this moment. And they won.
In doing so, they completed the sweep for the Shpilband/Zoueva camp, as that reality was confirmed — they have this ice dance thing down to a science. They are the best and they train the best. And with the Shibutanis just getting started, the world better watch out (and Davis/White better watch their backs!) as we race towards Sochi.
The first ever all-North American dance podium at worlds seemed a beautiful way to end a historic worlds.
And with that, another season is in the books. And what a beautiful season it’s been!