Dancing To a Different Beat

Susan D. Russell
Meryl Davis and Charlie White

Sometimes, you see the darndest things in an ice dance event.

Germany's Nelli Zhiganshina and Alexander Gazsi weren’t anywhere near the podium when all the scores were tallied (they wound up 10th), but they made fans sit up and take notice with their wildly creative free dance "Two from the Grave" (called the “zombie dance” by some).

The squeals of laughter from the crowd were palpable at times as they watched the duo get right into character.

“The audience was great and helped us a lot,” said Zhiganshina. “This was our best performance and a lot of fun.”

Added Gazsi: “It was the best for last. It’s also a bit sad that we are done with this free program now. We hope everyone liked it.”

The cheers from the audience made it abundantly clear that they did.

If Meryl Davis and Charlie White hadn’t claimed their second World ice dance title, it surely would not have been for lack of effort. Both skaters were noticeably doubled over in exhaustion after their winning free dance was done, completely spent and drained.

But they wouldn’t have it any other way.

“We’re always exhausted at the end of our free dances at competitions,” said Davis. 
‘We do double run-throughs at home (in practices), back-to-back run-throughs.

“I think what Charlie and I aim for at competitions is to put literally everything out there emotionally, physically ... just put everything we have into our performance.”

If you’re keeping score at home, the Americans and Canadians in this ice dance rivalry are dead even in their battle for global supremacy over the last four years.

Virtue and Moir prevailed in 2010 and 2012, while Davis and White topped the field in 2011 and 2013. The ultimate prize — Sochi 2014 — will decide this best-of-five series.

"This has got to be close to the top," Davis said when asked about the significance of their latest triumph. "The first time we won Worlds was the first time Americans had won a World Championship (in ice dance), so that kind of holds a special place. Our growth this season and just how far we’ve come to win this gold medal ... that’s what makes this one really special."

Those of us who hang around the mixed zone regularly during this event are familiar with a small area tucked in a corner in which some TV interviews are filmed.

Russian ice dancers Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev were in the middle of one of those sessions after their free dance when a team official approached them, excitedly waving three fingers in the air.

The Russians immediately hugged each other with vigour, knowing the signal meant they had won the bronze medal. “This is our first World medal and it means a lot to us,” said Soloviev. “We worked very hard to get to the podium this time and it wasn’t easy for us.”

One of the undeniable storylines of these Worlds has been the welcome and the warmth felt in London by skaters from around the planet.

The stream of compliments for the fan support at Budweiser Gardens throughout the competition has been virtually endless, with every one of them basking in the enthusiasm.

Such talk makes Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir swell with pride. “We’re so privileged to come from such an amazing community,” said Virtue. “They’re such knowledgeable skating fans. It was out in full force this week, absolutely.”

But imagine being the hosts for the world’s biggest skating party — and also have to worry about performing the main act.

Such was life this week in London, Ont., for Virtue and Moir, who for months were the faces of the World Championships.

The dream finish didn’t happen — Virtue and Moir lost to American rivals Meryl Davis and Charlie White — but it was still a moment the hometown kids won’t ever forget.

Moir went so far as to call it one of the greatest memories of his career.

While the opportunity to compete at home was something they cherished, Moir admitted the weight of expectation was suffocating at times. “It was exhausting,” Moir said.

“We would walk in the door and sometimes it felt like we couldn’t get away from it. You walk in (the arena) and you know every single volunteer and you know every single bellman at the hotel. You walk down the street and everyone knows who you are.

But, as Moir said, it was a unique Worlds and nobody felt it more than the hometown kids.