SOCHI, Russia — Just prior to the ice dance flower ceremony, they all ran into each other, just off the Iceberg Skating Palace rink.
The Americans, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, were about to be introduced as gold medal winners. The Canadians, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, had won silver. This was an exact reversal of four years prior at the Vancouver Games.
Here the four were, at the end of a remarkable journey. For a dozen years they’d been competing against each other. For nine, they trained together in suburban Detroit, under the same coach, no less. Through the years, the golds and silvers had gone back and forth; so too had all of them grown up from teenagers to now, all in their mid-20s, all seemingly ready to call it quits to elite competition.
Through the years, there’d been rivalry and jealousy and arguments and every other emotion, rather natural, especially when each was competing in a pursuit like this, so maddeningly subjective. They were different people, different teams, representing different countries, with different styles.
Both came to Sochi to win, of course. Only one would, they understood.
“Today was like a four-year war,” their coach, Marina Zoueva said.
Now that it was finished and the final judging was determined, they were face-to-face, these most unusual of rivals.
So Scott Moir held up his hand.
And Charlie White high-fived it.
The hugs and pats on the backs and the claps for each other’s name getting called continued from there. And maybe, more than ever, they were realizing that the color of the medals just didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
“He’s a classy guy,” Moir said of Davis.
“That was awesome, he’s the classiest,” White said of Moir.
This isn’t unusual between great competitors, that when the battles are over, the appreciation sinks in. Boxers, basketball players, football players, lawyers, politicians, whatever.
There is an understanding that while in the moment they wished one may not exist, in the end they needed each other to be motivated to strive for better and greater.
“It’s been a fierce rivalry between the four of us,” Moir said. “The pressure of these Games … is slowly melting away.”
[Related: The Detroit area rules the world in ice dancing ... yes, for real]
There is no question that Davis-White and Virtue-Moir changed ice dance over this stretch of years, thrilling fans, causing people to choose sides and eventually playing it out to something like a career draw. The sport soared in popularity. This was a prime event here in Sochi, a packed house set to produce big television numbers. It isn’t figure skating’s other pursuit any longer.
Oh, the Canadians wanted this tonight, they wanted gold and there is no hiding, nor apologizing for that. It’s just infuriating trying to figure out how the scoring works, so infuriating that it’s best to ignore it, to skate to your own ability and hope the judges agree. In the end, it's all personal preference.
On this night, both delivered career bests in the free program. It helped ease the disappointment.
“There is a less sadness of the result,” Zoueva, the coach, said, “if you did a perfect performance.”
Mainly, though, the four of them, here at the end, are ready to move on. They spoke the other day about realizing of late that they have more similarities than differences; that no matter the rough times, they’ll forever be intertwined; that long after they unlace the skates, they’ll be a bond.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir react after placing second in the ice dance free dance figure skating finals. (AP)
Ultimately, a great one, an essential one, a rewarding one, no matter the spot on the podium.
“Training alongside these guys, pushing each other every day, seeing each other, learning from each other,” Davis said. “We learned so much from Tessa and Scott.”
“No athlete likes to sit, and our goal was to come here and win,” Moir said. “But it is easier when you see how hard these two work every day.”
So the support was real. Virtue-Moir played their part for the cameras as the scores were revealed, but they knew what was coming, had accepted it and could hardly fake any rivalry anymore.
“They wanted us to watch [Davis-White skate and the score] for TV, so we gave them a little show, a smile and a hug,” Moir said. “We’ve done our reality shows; we know how to work the camera.”
They weren't going to upstage the Americans' moment.
Monday was the night for Davis-White, the night the golden dream came true after 17 long years together. Both originally hail from Royal Oak, Mich. and began training together at 9 and 10 years old.
“I wasn’t only a young partner; I was a young girl when I started skating with Charlie,” Davis said. “We grew up together in every sense of the word.”
After building to this chance, they seized it, world record scores on consecutive nights to win going away, 195.52 to 190.99, and, just as important, performances they will personally revel in forever.
Four years ago, they watched Virtue-Moir defeat them, and maybe the feelings were different on all sides — less conciliatory, less gracious, more competitive.
That was then. This is Sochi. This is almost assuredly the last Olympics for each of them, and once the heat of the battle had lessened, once the finale was reached, everyone realized what they meant to each other and that they were winners and perhaps even friends.
So there Scott and Charlie were, sealing it with that high-five.
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