By Pritha Sarkar
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Meryl Davis and Charlie White again raised the bar as Sunday's spectacular display to a medley of songs from 'My Fair Lady' put them in sight of becoming the first Americans to win the Olympic ice dance title.
The pair have made a habit of breaking their own world record scores each time they skate and so it proved once more as they beat Canadian training partners and Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir with 78.89 points.
It was a performance that left the fans cheering and stamping their feet in approval and if Professor Higgins had been in the crowd he would probably have exclaimed: 'By George, you really did it, you did it, you did it!'
"They were flying," gushed Russian Marina Zoueva who coaches both North American rivals. "It was a strong performance but also so light and so flowing and very, very natural ... it was a really, really great dance."
A beaming Davis added: "I told Charlie that ... I felt like I was in a dream. It is was so surreal."
The twice world champions are now only one routine away from becoming only the fourth non-Russian couple to win the Olympic ice dance title.
"It felt awesome. When we were going out, we said, 'Let's do it for each other'," said White. "We're letting it flow."
The pair certainly did that as their foxtrot-quickstep number would not have looked out of place on any dance floor, let alone the ice rink.
Davis's sparkling pink dress and White's black suit tails were a picture as they whizzed across the ice effortlessly, showing off intricate step sequences and perfectly synchronized twizzles.
When they finished off their final rotational lift, with Davis doing the splits on a spinning White's shoulders, they had Zoueva clapping and leaping for joy before the final music notes had died out.
Virtue and Moir also left Zoueva a happy coach but when their scores came up, it seemed as if the judges did not quite agree.
A week after what Moir described as getting "smoked" by their rivals in the team competition, when they were blown away by nearly 10 points, the Canadians produced a far more polished showing to earn 76.33.
The side-by-side twizzles that had gone so spectacularly out of sync eight days ago were spot on and the pair finished their jazz-infused display to a medley of songs by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong with a flourish - Virtue lying on her back across a spinning Moir's shoulders.
They looked overjoyed with their routine, an excited Moir wrapping his arms around Virtue and lifting her off the ice as soon as they completed their final pose.
But their hopes of ending Davis and White's 22-month unbeaten streak took a knock when the scores flashed up to show that one of their elements had been downgraded.
"We certainly felt more like ourselves out there tonight. We created the moment we wanted to create. I don't think we could have done it much better than we did tonight," said Virtue.
"It was bang on how we wanted to skate."
Moir pulled off his braces and said: "That was fun. I think you could tell by our reaction that we were really excited about that skate."
However, after watching their American rivals earn a higher mark an hour later, they may struggle to overcome the 2.56-point cushion Davis and White will carry into Monday's free dance.
"It is do-able," said Moir sighing deeply. "But we know with the team we are sitting beside that they are going to bring a great skate tomorrow and we train with them every day so it is a task but we think we are up to it.
"We want it bad, we want that gold medal."
The intense rivalry between the North American couples - who have won every competition they have featured in since the 2010 Vancouver Games with each landing two world titles - means the event will be a two-horse race for the top prize.
It leaves the other medal contenders to battle it out for bronze and on Sunday Russians Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov gave the home fans plenty to cheer when they finished third with 73.04.
They have already picked up gold in the team competition but Ilinykh said "that medal didn't satisfy us" so they will now be eager to hold off a chasing pack that includes France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat plus fellow Russians Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev.
(Editing by Tony Jimenez)