By Pritha Sarkar
(Reuters) - Just watching Meryl Davis and Charlie White whiz around the rink weaving in and out of their spellbinding lifts and intricate choreography can leave awe-struck spectators feeling rather breathless.
Such is the American couple's breakneck speed on ice, they could have easily swapped their dainty ice dancing boots for the longer 46 cm blades and chanced their luck for a medal in short track skating, which like figure skating will be staged at the Iceberg Palace during next month's Sochi Olympics.
If fans thought the couple who put ice dancing on the map in the United States could not get any faster by the time they arrive in Russia, White dispelled the notion.
"In the Vancouver Olympics we were sort of known for having a lot of speed, power and athleticism," White, who along with Davis became the first American ice dancers to win a world title, told Reuters.
"Even to this day, we've improved tremendously in that area. We really sought to become a complete team, one who could marry what we had done four years ago with the characters we are portraying in these programs and the feel for dance itself.
"We feel like we've left no stone unturned. We've continued to grow as skaters ... and tried to gain more speed and have more charisma and everything. In every aspect we've tried to be the best we possibly can be."
That dedication has led them down a path in which they have won two world championships, five consecutive grand prix finals and a record six successive U.S. National titles.
Remarkably they have won their last 11 competitions, are unbeaten for 22 months and are favorites to become the first Americans to win the ice dance gold medal at a Winter Games.
Since they are the United States' only realistic hope of grabbing a figure skating gold in Sochi, the pressure and expectations could have become intolerable.
However, 2010 Vancouver silver medalist White said: "We are not dreading it. Trying to be the first Americans to win (ice dance gold at) worlds was a good lesson.
"We got a little too caught up in it the year we won worlds (for the first time in 2011), just in terms of how much pressure we felt. But we realized we can come through unscathed."
Four years after wowing the crowd with their hip-shaking Bollywood original dance, they will now bring some Hollywood glamour to the Sochi ice after hooking up with Dancing with the Stars dancer Derek Hough to choreograph their 2014 short program.
"Derek is clearly a genius at what he does and being able to experience first hand his creativity… was really a treat," said the 26-year-old White, who linked up with Davis 17 years ago while still trying his luck as a single skater.
"Especially for me being the guy, it's so important to show Meryl off the right way and he was able to do that."
However, it is the duo's ability to show off their art, be it complex fast-paced footwork, innovate gravity-defying lifts or synchronized twizzles and spins - all seamlessly woven together - that has set the ice dance world alight.
Their intense North American rivalry with training mates and friends Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympics champions from Canada, will also spice up the competition in Russia as between them the two couples have won every competition they have featured in since the Vancouver Games.
"We are used to the idea of the two teams really pushing each other," said Davis, who like the Canadians is coached by Marina Zoueva in Canton, Michigan.
"We're appreciative of our training environment and having Tessa and Scott there all along has pushed us to heights we don't know we would have reached otherwise.
"The intense rivalry makes us hungrier and makes us want to achieve more in terms of our skating. I don't think we've left any room to push harder."
White added: "Since the last Olympics, we've all been either first or second so it definitely adds an interesting dynamic to the storyline going into the Olympics."
(Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Julien Pretot)
- Ice Skating
- Sports & Recreation
- Meryl Davis
- Charlie White