Skating with flair and precision, U.S. ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White struck gold at the World Figure Skating Championships in London, Ont., last Saturday, confirming they're America's best—and perhaps only—hope for a skating medal next year in Sochi. The duo dethroned Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the reigning world and Olympic champions, who were competing in their hometown. "This was really a road game for us," said White. "Do it here, and you can win anywhere." Davis and White ranged from classical to whimsical with their sequences of march, drama, waltz and polka.
But even the winning dancers would have a hard time putting a positive spin on the overall performance of the U.S., which failed to medal in men's, women's or pairs figure skating for the fourth straight season, following a run of at least one medal in 43 of the previous 45 years. What's more, because of their subpar showing in London, the U.S. will have only two entries in men's and pairs events at the 2014 Games. (The U.S. women eked out a third spot.) "The goal here was really to skate well enough to get a full team to Sochi," said Wagner, who won two Grand Prix events earlier this season. "We've had some down years, and we need to get back in the right direction."
Not since Michelle Kwan, who won nine world medals from 1996 to 2004, has the U.S. enjoyed sustained star power—at least until Davis and White came along and took silver at the 2010 Olympics and gold at the worlds a year later. "If you look at what our singles skaters can do, from jumps to presentation, it's all there," says Scott Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic champ. "But the performance trajectory has been spotty since Michelle: people are up one year, down the next." One cause for inconsistency is the current scoring system, in use since 2004, that quantifies specific elements of programs and makes it harder for champions to benefit from their reputations. "That's part of it," Hamilton agrees, "but it's willpower too. Look at Meryl and Charlie now. No matter what happens, they know they should win. We don't have anyone else who commands the ice like that."