The Ice Dance competition could be the most delicious of all of the contested events in Vancouver. Not only are the competitors well matched in terms of difficulty and scoring potential, but there is also the omnipresent power of politics, scandal, and judging alliances that often plague ice dance competitions.
In a perfect competition, no single team would win more than one phase of the competition, and that could very well happen in Vancouver. Most familiar with the sport believe that Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin will win the compulsory dance, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White the original dance, and Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir the free dance. If that scenario plays out, the competition could be decided by mere tenths of a point.
Domnina and Shabalin have proven that they are strong compulsory dancers, essentially winning last month’s European title based on the strength of their Tango Romantica. The popular opinion at this point is that the judges will give the World Champions such an insurmountable lead in the compulsory dance in Vancouver that no other team will challenge them for the title.
But judging is not where the controversy surrounding this team ends. Domnina and Shabalin have been crucified since skating an Aboriginal original dance in Tallinn that drew messages of disgust from all corners of the globe. Skating the program in Vancouver could draw protests, negative audience response, and ill will with the Aboriginal community in Australia.
Competing for an Olympic title is a pressure cooker of its own magnitude, but add in the possibility of pre-event judging shenanigans, the controversial original dance, and Shabalin’s storied battle with degenerative knee issues, the World Champions might crumble on the international stage.
Davis and White could very well be the benefactors of such a meltdown. The American champions have already proven this season that they are ready to take their skating to the next level, winning four competitions in the fall, including the Grand Prix Final. Additionally, Davis and White have earned the second highest score of the season behind their training mates Virtue and Moir.
“All the years, minutes, hours, and all of the hard work that we have done on the ice, has really led up to this moment,” White said of preparing for the Olympic Games. “It’s really special, and is something that we have looked forward to for a long time.”
Unlike the Russians, Davis and White have received a flood of accolades from Indians all over the world in support of their Bollywood original dance. The Grand Prix Final champions have earned the highest point total for an original dance this season, and should be in medal position heading into the free dance.
Virtue and Moir have traded placements with their training mates in head to head competition for the past year, and the same could happen within the competition in Vancouver. The Canadian champs have the highest season total of all dance teams this season, and if they are within a point or two of the lead after the original dance, Virtue and Moir will be the Olympic Champions.
Virtue has been long plagued by a lower leg condition that limited her training time and competition schedule last season, but so far this year she has skated as if she is pain free. Skating in their home country should be an advantage for Virtue and Moir, and with that support, they could become the first North Americans to win the gold medal at the Olympics.
“I think it would be huge and a great honor for any North American team to step up on the Olympic stage and win a (gold) medal,” Virtue explained. “It would speak volumes about where the direction of our sport is going. North American teams have had a great showing the last couple of seasons, and I think that it is a definite possibility.”
Whatever happens for either of coach Igor Shpilband’s top teams, it will be a thrilling competition given how closely matched these teams are in terms of technical merit and presentation. The only question is will Americans Tanith Belbin and Benjamin Agosto be able to make it a North American sweep of the ice dance medals.
Belbin and Agosto are the only returning medalists from the 2006 Olympic Games, and should have been the favorites to strike gold in Vancouver. However, Belbin and Agosto have lost steam in recent seasons, slipping out off the World podium altogether in 2008, and losing the US title to Davis and White this season.
Belbin and Agosto will have to come charging out of the gates in the compulsory dance, and hope that their years of experience will carry them to the best Tango Romantica of their career. Their original dance is a strong vehicle for the five-time American champions, but their free dance is a confusing mishmash of Las Vegas style glitz and Jesus. It is expected that Belbin and Agosto will skate their last competitive programs in Vancouver, and they are motivated to go out with a bang.
“I think that the US Team is capable of doing anything that they set their minds to,” Belbin said of the possibility of two American teams on the podium. “US Ice Dance has come so far, and it really is a credit to our drive and ambition that American teams can believe that they can stand atop an Olympic podium. I really feel that the sky is the limit. This is, in my opinion, the strongest US Ice Dance team ever, and we are honored to be a part of it. I really hope that we can bring the house down in Vancouver.”
The unknown variable in Vancouver is the French team of Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, who are on the comeback trail after a season-ending injury last season and a pregnancy this season. All we really know at this point is that the former World Champions are planning on competing in Vancouver and they are training franticly to prepare themselves for the competition.
Some information has leaked out about Delobel and Schoenfelder through various news outlets, and some clips of their Can-Can original dance have surfaced on the internet. There have been closed-session monitoring of their programs by Technical Specialists so that there are no surprises in the levels of their elements, but not much else is known. Delobel and Schoenfelder are amazing storytellers, usually have interesting original dances, and have consistently been in the hunt for medals. There is no reason to believe that they won’t be at the same level when they take the ice in Vancouver.
All of the other teams will be competing as also-rans in Vancouver, as they have not been able to compete those at the top at an international championship. European silver medalists Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali from Italy did win the original and free dances in Tallinn, but their total score wouldn’t be enough to challenge for a medal in Vancouver. Russians Jana Khokhlova and Sergei Novitski and the French team of Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat are both teams on the rise, but they will have to wait for Sochi in 2014 to challenge for a medal.