“I can’t keep up with your turning tables …” Or at least that’s how it’s felt, trying to keep track of the head-spinning game of musical partners! But, all the switcheroos are complete, and we’re left with a field full of promise. With ice dance becoming such a hotly contested international event, it’s a little odd to feel so confident in the gold medal hopefuls. But, when those hopefuls are *this close* to their second consecutive undefeated season, it’s understandable. That’s not to say we won’t have a strong event on our hands, though.
The Break Down
Meryl Davis & Charlie White — What else can you say about these two that hasn’t already been said? They are phenomenal. They are, however, coming off of a controversial win at the Grand Prix Final over training mates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. Well, the win wasn’t controversial, I suppose. The difference after the Short Dance portion more than made up for the scoring error, courtesy of the ever-changing ISU code of points system. What that does say, though, is that their brilliant waltz Free Dance isn’t untouchable. They’ve determined to stay the course, though, and focus on quality (which is code for “Grades of Execution”). Here, though, their biggest competition is their own expectations.
Maia Shibutani & Alex Shibutani — These two are undoubtedly the second-best American team this season. That said, there may be some unfair pressure on them, after their meteoric rise. They still need time to develop. They need polish. They need an “edge” that goes beyond elegance and good posture. I adore watching them skate, and they continue to improve, this season winning their first Grand Prix gold. They should be a lock for the podium (and likely one of the three World Team spots). *Knock on wood*
Madison Chock & Evan Bates — This is, perhaps, the couple that benefited most from Pass-The-Partner. Evan came into this season after being sidelined with an achilles injury last year. He has the experience — and the required skills — of being an Olympian with former partner Emily Samuelson. Those two looked to be the anointed ones, coming up through the shadow of Tanith Belbin/Ben Agosto and David/White. But, when they split and Maddie’s partner Greg retired, there was uncertainty for a while. But only until Maddie and Evan stepped on the ice together. They are magical. They engage each other so deeply that you can’t help but be drawn in. They understand choreography (just go back and look at Chock/Zuerlein’s FD last year!), they pay attention to detail, and, oh yeah, they have pretty solid technique. They’ve picked up the partnering thing as quick as anyone, and blown me away all season long. Their FD is one of my favorites of the year. I fully expect them to push for the podium.
Madison Hubbell & Zachary Donohue — Another skater who likely did herself good to change partners is Madison Hubbell. Skating with her brother, she showed promise. But, this year with Zachary, she has blossomed. They have a strong FD as well — one that shows of her sultry side (which, I have to say, is pretty spicy!). They look mature, controlled, and comfortable. All good things heading forward.
Emily Samuelson & Todd Gilles — This is the new team that may take the longest to develop, not because they don’t have the potential, but simply because they started at such different levels. Emily was Olympic elite. Todd isn’t there yet. But, together they’ve shown promise, as well. This may not be their year to make the quick jump back to the podium, but watch out for them as they grow.
There’s a whole group of developing teams that will fill in around these five. Some have strong international success, some wowed us last year and are hoping to build on that. But, it once again proves the depth of the US dance program — imagine these teams three, four years from now … if that long. There’s a whole new crop of teams including Charlotte Lichtman & Dean Copely, Isabella Cannuscio & Ian Lorello, her sister Anastasia Cannuscio & Colin McManus, Lynn Kriengkrairut & Logan Giulietti-Schmidt … to name a few.
With plenty of spicy sambas to go around, this will be fun. Even with Davis/White so far out in front, I still think we’ll have plenty of excitement in this competition. This is the only discipline with three World Team spots up for grabs, so everyone is going to want a chance to represent the US in France. That said, here’s how I see it shaking out.
1. Meryl Davis and Charlie White
2. Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani
3. Madison Chock and Evan Bates
How about you — do you expect any surprises or upsets? Who will make the biggest climb?