VANCOUVER, British Columbia — American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White put themselves in prime position to make history. But first they will have to win a showdown with Canada and beat their training partners.
Davis and White were in second place after the original dance Sunday, 2.60 points behind Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who took the lead with a sultry performance to flamenco music and left reigning world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin trailing in third place. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, Olympic silver medalists in 2006, are in fourth place going into Monday's free dance.
Virtue and Moir wowed the crowd and the judges with their seductive flamenco as they snapped their fingers, tossed their heads and stomped their blades on the Pacific Coliseum ice. They were fast, crisp, dramatic and scored 68.41 points for a total of 111.15.
Davis and White performed their popular Bollywood number, incorporating classic movements of Indian dance. She wore a sari, he a long coat. They played bride and groom in a Mumbai wedding. Their lifts were smooth, their footwork clean.
"It was an emotionally charged program," White said. "It's one of those performances where you come out feeling greater than going in. We said we wanted to have fun, and we did. This definitely gives us momentum to slide right into the free dance."
The Canadians and Americans stole the show from the Russians, who had been the center of controversy since they debuted their Aboriginal-themed dance and unusual costumes. The theme for this year's original dance portion of competition is country/folk. The Russians offended some Australian Aboriginal leaders, who said the steps were not authentic and the costumes — which included "body paint" on fabric, a loin cloth and artificial leaves — were ridiculous. One elder called it "cultural theft."
Representatives of Canada's Four Host First Nations met with Domnina and Shabalin last week. The Russians altered their costumes and their music.
"Who would have thought that philosophers would discuss our dance?" Shabalin said. "We just wanted to do something different."
It was different, but it did not contain nearly the degree of difficulty of the Canadians and Americans. The Russians also took a risk with the music, which included lots of drum and didgeridoo passages and explosive vocal sound effects. The judges, who scored the Russians five points lower than the Canadians, didn't seem to like it.
The two top couples train together near Detroit. Davis and White used to train with Belbin and Agosto, who switched coaches and moved to the Philadelphia area. In the past year, Davis and White moved up in the ice dance world, then beat Belbin and Agosto at U.S. nationals last month.
The Americans and Canadians want to make this a "North American Olympics" for ice dancing, long dominated by Russian or Soviet couples. Since dance became an Olympic sport in 1976, Russian or Soviet couples have won all but two of the gold medals.
Neither American nor Canadian couples have won Olympic gold in ice dancing.
The Russians could leave the Olympics without a gold medal in figure skating for the first time in 50 years.