Confession time: I used to think ice dancing was traditional figure skating’s bedazzled, less talented, grin-too-wide, show-off sibling – a watered-down, jump-free version of what the real athletes were doing.
Of course, I was very wrong. And if ever there were an argument to be made for ice dancing’s perfect marriage of athleticism and entertainment, it arrived in Monday night’s free skate at the Sochi games.
In an evening full of legendary performances, the American duo of Meryl Davis and Charlie White executed a flawless long program that boosted them above the rest of the field and garnered them the gold medal – America’s first in the event.
Davis was a jewel-encrusted Scheherazade as she and White skated to Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s gorgeous composition, their feet in near-constant motion. Their nearly two decades as partners was on surefooted display with synchronized twizzles (a series of fast parallel spins done in quick succession) and lifts that seemed effortless. At one point, White hoisted Davis high and flipped her completely upside-down, then supported her with just one palm as they traced a stunning parabola on the ice.
What was even crazier was how much serious competition Davis and White had throughout the night. The Canadian duo of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir came very close to repeating their Vancouver Olympic win with a routine that often reduced Virtue to a blur of pale pink chiffon and glinting blades, so frequently did she spin while held above Moir’s head. Their final lift, with her skates planted in his thighs and her entire body arched away from him, seemed to defy the laws of physics.
Whereas traditional figure skating puts an emphasis on jumps and tricky footwork — and Olympians groom their choreography to highlight those features — ice dancing seems to be much more about giving a consistently entertaining performance throughout. During some of this year’s pairs regular skating events, the arm flourishes and head turns sometimes felt like they were just filler before the couple could build up enough speed to try for the multiple axel or triple salchow or whatever else was on the menu.
On the other hand, the well-acted concepts and attention to show-stopping detail made Monday’s ice dancing finals felt like a satisfying show from start to finish.
The crowd seemed to be of a similar opinion, particularly when Russia’s Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov started up their skate – the night’s second routine to Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Their balletic program perfectly filled the dramatic music – the Black Swan (as opposed to White Swan) approach didn’t hurt, either – and the couple’s repertoire included several fast-moving, skyscraping lifts that had him wearing her thighs like an infinity scarf.
Ilinykh and Katsalapov wrapped their free skate to hurled bouquets, seat-shaking applause and a score that nabbed them the bronze.
What was your favorite moment from Monday’s coverage of the games? Bobsledding? Aerials? Just looking forward to Jimmy Fallon? Sound off in the comments!Follow @kimroots