Headlined by the powerful tandem of Meryl Davis and Charlie White, which ran away with gold at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships this weekend, the U.S. Olympic ice dancing team that heads to the Sochi Olympics next month is deep, talented and destined for the medal podium.
Joining the six-time national champions on the potential-rich U.S. team are silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and the bronze-medal-winning brother and sister tandem of Maia and Alex Shibutani. All three pairs delivered career performances at the U.S. Championships, and each should be considered medal challengers in Russia, headlined by the gold-medal ambitions of Davis and White.
Indeed, of the four teams that comprise the U.S. figure skating contingent, it is the ice dancing squad that has the greatest potential for multiple medals and headline-stealing performances in Sochi.
U.S. Championship Results: Davis and White didn't just win the gold medal in Boston; they absolutely dominated the ice dancing competition and in the process became one of the three or four top stories of the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Their 200.19 score in the competition wasn't just a personal best, it was nearly 19 points better than silver medalists Chock and Bates and was a clear declaration of the duo’s gold-medal plans in Sochi next month.
"With the Olympics in the season, it really ups the ante," White said following their gold medal performance, per the Associated Press. "What a great time to be an American ice dancer."
Career Highlights: Their silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics is certainly the pair’s most significant international victory, but it’s their complete and total domination of the national championships over the years that truly sets them apart.
In fact, their 2014 triumph was the sixth straight of their brilliant career, making Davis and White the most prolific American dance team of all time. White and Davis are also the 2011 and 2013 World Champions.
More Background: Davis and White have been skating together for 17 years, making them the longest-tenured ice dancing team in the country by eight years. Since the 2010 Olympics, the duo has earned gold in 17 of their 19 events.
In a curious case of strange bedfellows, the American pair trains at the same rink and with the same coaches as their Canadian rivals, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Vancouver gold medalists.
U.S. Championship Results: Skating comfortably in the shadow of Davis and White, Chock and Bates cruised to the silver medal with a score of 181.44, 11 points clear of the Shibutanis. The pair placed second to the gold medalists in the both the short program and free skate portions of the championships.
Career Highlights: In just their second year as partners, Chock and Bates captured the 2013 U.S. Championships silver medal. The pair also claimed the bronze medal at the Four Continents championship that same year. Bates was a 2010 Vancouver Olympian while skating alongside Emily Samuelson.
More Background: In the fall of 2010, Bates underwent surgery on his Achilles tendon after suffering a full laceration that sidelined him and then-partner Samuelson for the entirety of the 2010-2011 campaign.
In an interesting disparity in height, the 6'1" Bates is almost a full foot taller than Chock, who rises to just 5'2". Chock isn't just an on-ice talent; the 21-year-old designs her own dresses as well.
U.S. Championship Results: In the only truly close competition of the ice dancing event, the Shibutanis put together a strong free skate program on Saturday and captured the U.S. bronze medal by a little more than two points over Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.
The brother-sister tandem posted a total overall score of 170.44.
Career Highlights: The siblings have now medaled at each of the past four national championships, including silver medals in 2011 and 2012. The duo captured the bronze medal last year. They also finished third at the 2011 World Championships and captured silver at the Four Continents championships that same year.
More Background: Nicknamed the “Shib Sibs,” Maia and Alex are the first brother-sister tandem to be named to the U.S. Olympic figure skating team since Natalie and Wayne Seybold in 1988.
The duo, which trains alongside White and Davis, are as popular for their fun, quirky YouTube videos as they are for their engaging style on the ice.
The Battle for Gold: While Davis and White are the gold-medal favorites at the Sochi Games, it’s not by all that much. The most-decorated American ice dancers in history once again face a significant challenge from Canada’s Virtue and Moir, the pair that bested them in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
An Olympic gold medal is the only significant accomplishment that has escaped the six-time national champions, and their quest to remedy that in Russia will not only be one of the biggest stories surrounding the U.S. Olympic figure skating team, but for the entire American squad in Sochi.
Given that, their showdown with the Canucks will make headlines that don’t often come the way of Olympic ice dancing.
Will Ice Dancing Deliver Only U.S. Figure Skating Medal?: With the relative uncertainty and inexperience on the ladies and men’s U.S. figure skating teams, as well the fierce competition in international pairs, the medal that is sure to come from Davis and White is essentially the only one the American squad can safely count on in the Sochi Games.
The United States has captured at least one individual or team medal in the past 17 Winter Olympics, and the ice dancing team is its best, and maybe only, hope to continue that streak in Russia.
Davis and White certainly have their own ambitions to consider and pursue, but their role toward the overall greater good of this less-than-accomplished Olympic figure skating team can’t be overstated.
Is There a Second Medal-Winning Pair on the Team?: The medal promise of Davis and White is well documented; so the next logical question is whether Chock and Bates or the “Shib Sibs” are up to the challenge of delivering a silver- or bronze-medal performance in Sochi.
Assuming Virtue and Moir join the dominant U.S. pair on the Olympic medal podium in one capacity or another, it leaves a single spot available for another team. Considering their strong showings in Boston this weekend, it’s reasonable to consider the U.S. silver and bronze medalists as contenders for that spot.
While both dance pairs lack Olympic experience, they have the chemistry and talent to make a significant breakthrough if things come together in Sochi.
The U.S. Olympic Figure Skating team hasn't claimed the top prize in ice dancing since the sport was introduced to the Winter Games back in 1976. Given the prominent gold-medal potential of Davis and White, it’s a strong possibility that this U.S. Olympic ice dancing team will be the most decorated in history.
The country’s first medal in the elegant sport was delivered in those ’76 Innsbruck Games, as Colleen O’Connor and James Millns won the bronze medal. Since that initial Olympic competition, only two other U.S. ice dancing teams have delivered medals.
Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto skated to the silver medal in the 2006 Turin Games, finishing behind the Russian duo of Tatiana Navka and Roman Kostomarov. Four years later, it was Davis and White that delivered silver, coming up just short in their gold-medal battle with Virtue and Moir in Vancouver.
Given the high expectations on that American pair this time around, and the solid potential of Chock and Bates and the Shibutanis, more is expected of this edition of the U.S. Olympic ice dancing team than any one before it.
It’s not really a question of whether the U.S Olympic figure skating ice dance team will deliver a medal in Sochi but rather which one it will be.
The expected battle between Davis and White and Canada’s Virtue and Moir will undoubtedly define the ice dancing team in Sochi. Should the Americans win gold as expected this time around, they could be the toast of the U.S. figure skating team in Sochi.
A second straight Olympic silver medal would certainly be a disappointment for the duo, but it would at the very least extend the U.S. Olympic figure skating team’s medal run to 18 Winter Games. It would also relieve a small measure of pressure from the less heralded men’s, ladies and pairs hopefuls.
A career-best performance from the “Shib Sibs” or the Chock/Bates duo would certainly vault those skaters into the Sochi prime time as bronze medal contenders. Both pairs are capable of that, and a second medal would make the 2014 ice dancing team the stars of U.S. figure skating.
Indeed, as Boston Globe columnist John Powers recently wrote, American ice dancing will be the catalyst to Olympic success for the U.S. Olympic figure skating team:
"American ice dancing is now the global gold standard. Davis and White are world champions and next month in Sochi they’re favored to dethrone Canadian defending titlists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir and become the first Yanks to claim the Olympic crown."