LONDON, Ontario -- The gap that opened up between the world's top two ice dancing teams Thursday night is more like an abyss. Credit near-flawless execution by the U.S. team of Meryl Davis and Charlie White on a night when Canada's favorite son and daughter Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue were not completely in synch.
The Ann Arbor, Michigan-based Davis and White whirled through a precise, dynamic short dance that White called "one of those dream skates." They earned a whopping 77.12 points, tops in the short three-year history of the short dance, an amalgam of the former compulsory dance and original dance competitions.
Canada's defending Olympic and world champions Moir and Virtue, performing not only in their home country but also their hometown, were undone by a botched twizzle (side by side traveling spins) and a couple of other missteps and will be 3.25 points behind going into Saturday's free dance -- a margin that is fair to call insurmountable unless something strange happens.
"That was not only our season's best result, we felt it was our season's best skate," said a clearly elated White, half of the tandem paired in childhood that won the 2010 Olympic silver medal and 2011 world title. "We feel different than we did two years ago, in a good way. Our confidence is as high as it's ever been."
Excellence has become routine for both of these teams, so it was interesting to see Davis and White exceed their own high standard and jarring to watch Virtue go badly off course during the twizzle -- prompting an audible gasp from the section of seats where teams from several countries were watching following their own programs. (All of the teams competed to some combination of polka and waltz music, with some, including Davis and White, adding a march segment.)
Moir and Virtue wore brave faces afterwards, but it would have been hard for them to convince anyone they were in the vicinity of satisfied. "We find ourselves in a little bit of a hole, but hopefully it's not over yet," said Moir, who was quick to shoulder some of the responsibility for their score of 73.87. "It wasn't just the twizzle, although that's the easiest thing to point to. The way we do our twizzle, it's tricky. We cover a lot of ice. It takes a millisecond to get out of control."
The Canadians certainly are accustomed to home pressure, having endured the highest form of it at the 2010 Vancouver Games. But the intimate confines of Budweiser Gardens presented a different kind of stress. Both Moir and Virtue were born in London and first trained together in nearby Ilderton. Asked if they could recognize faces in the seats, Moir said, "We try not to. We could recognize a face in every row if we wanted to."