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In the days following the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, U.S. ice dancing champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White -- like all figure skaters heading to the 2011 world championships scheduled for Tokyo -- sat in limbo. Skaters focus their entire season on peaking for the tournament. "We weren't sure if worlds would be canceled or postponed, and that was the most difficult time," said White. "Once you have a set date and it changes, your mind gets all confused and your body gets confused."
The picture is a lot clearer now. As the rescheduled world championships started in Moscow this week, Davis and White are poised to make history. Having won all five of their events in a dominant fall season, they head to worlds with an excellent chance to end the U.S. ice dancing title drought.
"We have a lot of momentum leading in to this competition," Davis said. "Now we're focusing on not losing steam and keeping our head in the game." The Americans are the front-runners in Moscow in large part because their chief rivals are question marks.
This season the reigning world and Olympic champions, Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, entered only one competition, the Four Continents championships, but withdrew when Virtue suffered tightness in her left quad. She had also undergone surgery in October to treat lingering pain in her shins and calves. Before withdrawing, Virtue and Moir did complete the short dance portion of the competition and scored just ahead of Davis and White.
In a conference call with reporters earlier this month, Virtue and Moir said they're on track, and that the extra weeks of training allowed them to polish their programs for Moscow. But they haven't completed a competition this season and their readiness remains a mystery. Davis and White may have the inside scoop, since the four skaters train together in Canton, Mich., with coaches Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva.
"They've definitely proven in the past that it doesn't take them long to get into shape," White said. "And man, when they turn it on, they're as good as any team in the world." In White's estimation, Virtue and Moir are "ready to go."
Both teams formed in 1997, and that kind of longevity makes for a strong emotional connection on the ice. "We know each other so well," said Davis, 24, about her partnership with White, 23. "We can read each other's body movements and emotions, which helps in getting ready for a competition."
"You command a level of respect [with each other] when you've been together as long as we have," White said. "We've done so much together that if one of us makes a mistake, the other knows how to handle that."
Both Davis and White are working toward undergraduate degrees at the University of Michigan. "Meryl balances me out," White said. "Sometimes I can get too excited and she's there to calm me down. She'll say, 'OK, we don't need to try quite that hard.'"
And Davis describes White as the perfect counterpart to her cool and collected nature: "Charlie is outgoing and ambitious. It's not that I'm not ambitious, but Charlie really is. He's really social and likes to talk to other people. Over the years, we've found a really nice groove."
A groove that just may bring the U.S. an elusive first world championship in ice dancing.