Sochi Olympics: Meryl Davis, Charlie White win USA's first ice dancing gold medal

10:08 PM, Feb 17, 2014   |    comments
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Charlie White and Meryl Davis (USA) perform during the ice dance free dance program during the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games at Iceberg Skating Palace. (Jeff Swinger-USA TODAY Sports)




Story by Christine Brennan, USA Today Sports

SOCHI, Russia (USA TODAY) -- Officially, it took Meryl Davis and Charlie White four brilliant minutes of break-neck, pinpoint accuracy across a sheet of slippery ice to wrap up the United States' first-ever Olympic gold medal in ice dancing.

Unofficially, this American victory, the first for a team of U.S. skaters, pairs or dance, in Olympic history, was a few decades in the making. It was built on the scorn that international ice dancing judges once showed America's innovative and refreshing ice dance teams, who would show up at an Olympics with high hopes, only to be banished to 15th place, or 11th, or, on a good year, seventh.

It was given its first breath of real life when the International Skating Union, the sport's governing body, scrapped its old judging system for a new one in 2004 that, while it still confounds almost everyone, has absolutely made ice dancing scoring more honest and fair. The old system was so crooked and so biased toward the Russians -- with the occasional Torvill and Dean thrown in -- that the old joke that an accounting firm had already sealed the envelope with the dance results weeks before the Olympics took place really wasn't a joke at all.

The change, which stopped blatant bloc judging in its tracks, was profound, and almost overnight, which in Olympic terms means four years: At the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics, the top U.S. ice dance team finished 11th. At the 2006 Torino Games, the top Americans won the silver medal. Davis and White won the nation another silver medal in Vancouver in 2010. And now, gold.

American ice dancing - a delightful collaboration of exuberant U.S. skating talent with the moxie of Russian expatriate coaches, all centered in and around Detroit - was about to explode. But there was one more necessary ingredient, and it was happening all around the American skaters.

The United States was becoming a nation of dancing fools.

"Dancing with the Stars" and all its television cousins didn't create Davis and White, who started skating together at age 10 in 1997, long before the dancing craze hit the nation. But all those shows encouraged a climate, and a culture, in which dance became popular, and young athletes like the future American Olympic gold medalists could soar.

MORE: White, Davis win USA's first ice dancing gold

"I think (ice dancing's popularity) is attributable to 'Dancing with the Stars,'" Davis said recently, "and the general public being aware of dancing as a whole."

All of a sudden, it was cool to be ice dancers, the one discipline in skating without jumps. Unlike American pairs skating, where couples break up on a regular basis, dancers stay together and cultivate the longevity that breeds international success.

"We've grown up as a couple together for the last 17 years," Davis said. "I wasn't only a young partner but I was a young girl when I first started skating with Charlie. And we've grown up together in every sense of the word, and I'm just so grateful that we were able to do it together."

Said White: "We are a complete team."

RECAP: Entire ice dancing event

The long-suffering U.S. ice dancing community, the men and women of those 11th-place finishes, celebrated with Davis and White Monday night.

"You guys did it!" tweeted Ben Agosto, who with partner Tanith Belbin won that silver medal in Torino in 2006. "Generations of US ice dancers rejoice."

As they should. There was a bronze medal long ago, won by Colleen O'Connor and Jim Millns during the first Olympic ice dance competition, held in 1976 in Innsbruck. Judy Blumberg and Michael Seibert were seventh and fourth in 1980 and 1984, respectively. Elizabeth Punsalan and Jerod Swallow went from that 15th-place finish in Lillehammer in 1994 to seventh in 1998.

This is the history that puts this glorious night for American figure skating into perspective, an evening in which U.S. ice dancers were not only first, but eighth and ninth as well. After winning seven gold medals in women's Olympic skating, and seven more in men's, a nation of individuals has finally won an Olympic gold medal in a figure skating event involving a team.

As surprising as it seems, it really is no surprise at all.

By Nancy Armour, USA TODAY Sports

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