SOCHI -- Meryl Davis and Charlie White won the ice dancing competition here, the way everybody thought they would. You can spin that any way you want, I suppose.
You can say the fix was in, as a French magazine did this month, and because this is ice dancing, somebody will believe it.
Or you can say that Davis and White won for the same reason they were supposed to win: They are the best ice dancers in the world.
They would never say that. But the faces of the silver medalists, Canadians Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, revealed it. Moir and Virtue joined Davis and White for a post-skate press conference, and on a scale of 1 to 100, I give the Canadians’ bitterness a negative-42. I haven’t heard so much laughing in a press conference since the Cleveland Browns hired a coach.
Moir and Virtue train with White and Davis. They have the same coach, Marina Zoueva. So the Canadians know better than anybody how good the Americans are.
Zoueva’s credential said UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, which will set off Canadian (and Russian) conspiracy theorists who thinks Zoueva set up routines so the Americans would win. But Zoueva told me that in Vancouver in 2010, her credential was for Canada. In Turin in 2006, it was for the U.S. She alternates. Settle down, folks.
It is impossible to discuss ice dancing without questioning the judging -- unless, apparently, you are an ice dancer. The athletes have an approach to their sport that is similar to how snowboarders and freestyle skiers feel, though I suspect the viewer demographics are different. They just want to perform well, and if the judges approve, that’s cool.
Moir called this a “fierce rivalry,” which makes me wonder how he would describe Ravens-Steelers. As he said, he and Virtue were not trying to beat their friends, as much as skate their best.
“I don’t really like to compare to Meryl and Charlie,” Moir said. “We do have very different styles.”
This was an interesting comment because they had presumably worked four years for the moment when judges would compare them to Meryl and Charlie. It was sort of like if Sidney Crosby said that when Canada plays the U.S. in hockey, he doesn’t like to keep track of the score.
But it’s a necessary approach for an ice dancer. There is no defense in this sport.
The key to enjoying ice dancing is to appreciate it for what it is. This is not hockey, with two teams trying to beat the heck out of each other. The scoring distinctions are subtle.
In 2004, the scoring system was overhauled, and instead of simple 6.0 scores being perfect, the scores are much more technical. This makes for a more honest sport, but the average viewer doesn’t understand the scoring system, and ice dancing may now be the most predictable Olympic event. The results from the short dance were virtually identical to the results in the free dance.
That doesn’t mean the fix is in, as the French publication L’Equipe reported before the Olympics. There was some argument about whether the Canadians deserved to lead after the short dance, based on a better Finn-step, and while I enjoy a good Finn-step controversy as much as the next ice-dancing expert, that is a disservice to Davis and White. They earned this gold.
That probably explains why Moir and Virtue were so relaxed afterward: They probably knew who deserved to win, and they probably suspected it before they skated.
There was a charming press-conference moment when somebody asked a question for any of them to answer, the journalism equivalent of family-style dining, and White and Moir each expected the other to answer.
White: “I was looking at you.”
Moir: “You’re the winner.”
They laughed. They did that a lot. They had all skated their best, and it was over, and they had medals, and they were happy. Can’t that be enough for all of us?
You can look at the fact they share a coach and see a conspiracy. Or you can look at this logically: If Moir and Virtue thought their coach was not on their side, they would have hired a different coach a long time ago.
It’s ice dancing. It will always invite suspicion. But today, at least, I hope it invites respect, not just for the sport but for its gold medalists. Davis and White have been doing this together for most of their lives. Davis said they knew each other “casually” before becoming an on-the-ice item when the absurdity of eight-year-olds having “casual” relationship hit her.
“Casual playdates,” she said, and Moir laughed so hard his head was on the table.
Moir said: “We know how hard these guys work, and it’s pushed us for years.”
In Vancouver in 2010, the Canadians won gold and the Americans won silver. Since then, Davis and White improved, became the best in the world and were favorites coming to Sochi. They earned this, day by day, year after year. That’s how you win gold at the Olympics, no matter the sport.