SOCHI, Russia – At the end of the press conference they all hugged – Meryl and Tessa, Charlie and Scott, Charlie and Tessa, Meryl and Scott. It was dizzying.
So if you were hoping the hype sessions promoting Monday's ice dance free skate would descend into some boxing mayhem – and most of the media would've been fine with this – there was no such luck. They put them all up on a stage and put a microphone in front of each one, just like the big Vegas promotions, but the fireworks were fairly tame.
"We want it bad," Scott Moir said. "We want that gold medal."
That was about it. Most everything else was polite and supportive and seemingly genuine, apparently there are limits to how heated one of the most peculiar and enduring "rivalries" in sports can get.
Here's a brief recap on this one.
Four years ago, Scott Moir and Tessa Virtue, the Canadians, won gold in Vancouver. Charlie White and Meryl Davis, the Americans, finished with the silver. Now, Davis and White appear to be the superior team and are in first place after their world record short program (78.89 to 76.33). Moir and Virtue are staring at an Olympics reversal.
That's just part of it, though. They aren't just the top teams in the world. All four of them train at the same facility – the Detroit Skating Club – and have for years. They've been competing against each other since 2001. They are all close. They are all in their mid-20s now, but basically grew up together.
They even share the same coach, Marina Zoueva, a Russian-born, thickly accented, passionately spoken creator of champions. She is so good she is coaching both teams. Either the competitors either don't mind or they don't want to leave the best in the business, especially to the other guys.
"The answer [to how it works] is Marina just does an incredible job," Davis said.
There has probably been times when the four grew sick of each other, times when they competed for their coach's attention, times when they were jealous of how the judges were favoring the other team in an event that is so complex to score no one seems to know what is happening in real time. They all admit they need to go watch replays afterward to see what went wrong.
Once one team gains the upper hand in a season, the results seem to carry over, often infuriating fans of one team or the other. This is ice dance, the most subjective of the subjective sports – no one jumps so no one falls and the color of a medal can be determined by a twizzle.
It's beyond tricky. Consider that last week a French newspaper reported the judging in this competition will be fixed in favor of Davis and White due an alleged agreement between the U.S. and Russia that began with the host nation receiving favorable judging to help it win gold in the team competition. Both the Americans and Russians deny it, but Russia did win. And now Davis and White are in first.
Yet no one seems to care. The issue wasn't even broached Sunday.
This is ice dance they all seem to shrug. At some point, to remain sane, they can't even care what the judges think.
"You know," Virtue said of how pleased they were over their short program, "we sat in the kiss and cry and looked at each other and said, 'It doesn't matter [what they score us] because that was the moment we wanted to have.' "
So maybe it makes sense then that at the end of a rather remarkable journey these four seem to be putting whatever issues they may or may not have ever had behind them.
They got here together. It's been a long road. They might as well appreciate it.
"I don't know how many years we've trained with these guys," said White (it's been since 2005). "It's great being at all the top events with them. It really feels like home. There's a real certainty to having the two of us out on the ice."
"Yeah, I agree with Charlie," Moir said. "The neat thing is Charlie and I came up the same way, playing hockey and then making that transition to ice dance. We have a great friendship and a pretty heated rivalry. … Nobody else really knows what we are going through like these guys."
The guys, even here in the middle of such a huge competition, bond over which famous NHL player they ran into in the Athletes' Village. Perhaps Virtue and Davis aren't as close, but who knows. There was that hug. It looked genuine. Then again, these guys rehearse everything.
Which doesn't mean anyone is going light on the other Monday.
"Yeah, I'm not going [concede]," Moir said. "We'll wait to see until tomorrow."
That 2.56-point lead can be pretty big, though.
"It's two points," Zoueva, the coach, said. "In long program you can get more points. There is more possibility."
Zoueva somehow manages all of this, claiming there is little challenge to the task of jumping sides. She's used to it.
"It is their story, how they train together," Zoueva said. "It's nine years, eight seasons, together, the same group, the same ice and same time. Both teams have so different personalities, so different ability."
The coaching is thus different. For instance, just before Moir and Virtue took the ice for Sunday's short program, Zoueva said she simply reiterated her love and support for them in an attempt to build confidence that they'd skate a clean program. They did.
Meanwhile, she reminded White that she was counting on a more "erotic" performance and that he needed to really connect with Davis. Apparently, he did too.
"When Charlie smiled and showed how he adored Meryl, I just melted because I want a man to look at me like that," Zoueva said.
Charlie White doesn't date Meryl Davis – he's actually with former ice dancing star Tanith Belbin – yet the act has to be so convincing for the judges that he tries to downplay his real-life relationship. No sense in risking that it somehow creeps into their minds and they don't believe what happens on the ice.
Moir and Virtue aren't dating either, but they unexpectedly hugged even after the performance Sunday just to help the cause.
"Sorry about the hug," Moir said to Virtue. "I didn't want to hug her. … I was staying in character."
In ice dance, nothing and everything makes sense.
Like how four people making up two teams with just one coach could live together at the same training facility for years and years, could devout themselves to such a terribly difficult athletic feat, could battle back and forth over Olympic gold in a pursuit where a winner and loser is open to interpretation – unless you consider erotic looks quantifiable – and yet at the end of the day, on the eve of potentially the final, pressure-packed competition, sit side-by-side and crack jokes.
So they probably should've fought. Instead, they all just hugged it out.
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