By John Powers Globe Staff
LONDON, Ontario — It wasn’t the same as being at home but it was close enough. Meryl Davis and Charlie White train next door in Michigan. The fans inside Budweiser Gardens all speak English and dozens of them were waving the Stars and Stripes. And Canadian archivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are their training partners.
“We’re so grateful to the crowd,” Davis said Saturday afternoon after she and White had dethroned the Olympic dance gold medalists on their home ice by a count of 189.56-185.04 and set themselves up as the favorites for next year’s Games in Sochi. “We’re well aware that this is Scott and Tessa’s territory. The level of respect and enthusiasm we got from the crowd was thrilling.”
It was the second time in three years that the Americans had won the crown, and nobody in the building was asking for a recount, including their opponents. “Charlie and Meryl are great skaters,” said Moir. “We take our hats off to them.”
Though the Americans had led by only 3.25 points after Thursday’s short dance, that was a considerable margin in a discipline that doesn’t have jumps or throws, where mistakes are both frequent and costly. “Four points is a lot,” Moir conceded, “but it wasn’t over.”
So the Canadians went after it with an acrobatic and emphatic rendition of “Carmen” that earned them their season’s best score. But the Americans, who’d beaten Virtue and Moir at both the Grand Prix Final and the Four Continents Championships (where Virtue cramped up in the free dance), followed with a flawless performance to “Notre Dame de Paris” that had speed, style, and sophistication. “What we’re most proud of,” said White, “is that we left it all out on the ice.”
With teammates Madison Chock and Evan Bates placing seventh and siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani eighth, the US retained three Olympic entries, as did the hosts, who received a fifth-place effort from Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje. And while the Russians made the podium for the first time in four years as Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev claimed the bronze, the Motherland’s iron embrace of the title ended years ago.
After winning all but one gold medal from 1985 through 1999, the Russians have claimed only one since 2005, while the Americans and Canadians have won the last four, with these two couples alternating as 1-2. The dance has become a North American commodity with reliable pipelines on both sides of the border.
The US breakthrough at the Games came in 2006, when Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto won the silver medal. Then Davis and White did the same in Vancouver three years ago. In Sochi comes their chance to reach the summit. “We are looking forward to the challenge of next year,” said White, “and making the most of it by winning an Olympic gold medal.”
The American women used to occupy the top spot on the podium by divine right. Now the global goddess, again as before, is South Korea’s Kim Yu Na, who came out of a year’s sabbatical and demolished the field with 218.31 points, outdistancing both Italian defending titlist Carolina Kostner (197.89) and Japanese two-time champion Mao Asada (196.47) to reclaim the laurels that she won in 2009.
“I was very happy to skate well here in Canada again,” said Kim, who’ll be bidding next year to become the only woman other than Sonja Henie and Katarina Witt to retain her Olympic crown after winning in Vancouver three years ago.
The Americans, who missed the global podium for the seventh straight time, their longest drought since 1937, were more concerned about increasing their Olympic entry quota.
“Three spots, three spots, three spots,” said Ashley Wagner, who was the woman left home from Vancouver last time. “We’re going to do whatever it takes to get there.”
What they needed was a combined placement of 13, and they made it comfortably as Wagner placed fifth (187.34) and the 17-year-old Gracie Gold sixth (184.25). “I was on the team that lost that [third spot] and I’m on the team that got it back,” said Wagner. “I’m so proud of Gracie for keeping her head on her shoulders this first Worlds. It’s more than I accomplished my first Worlds.”
Gold, who had to come out of ninth place to make the US team, climbed up from the same spot here, outpointing Wagner in the free skate. “I’m glad I was able to help out our country in that sense,” she said.
Kim did even more for hers. Queen Yu Na, the only skater from her country in any discipline at these championships, was concerned about her domestic line of succession and needed to place in the top two to earn three spots for the Games. Her Olympic experience, she said, was sublime. “I want to experience it again with my little Korean skaters,” Kim said. Now if they can only clone two more of her in a Seoul stem cell clinic.John Powers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.