Canadians lead Americans after OD
Sizzle beats buzz.
Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won the original dance
Sunday with a sultry, fiery flamenco number that reduced the uproar
over the Russians’ aboriginal routine to background noise. Virtue
and Moir, medalists at the last two world championships, scored
68.41 points to edge Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White. With
111.15 points overall, Virtue and Moir lead Davis and White – their
training partners – by 2.60 points going into Monday night’s free
Reigning world champions Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, the
focus of all the attention before the OD and leaders after the
compulsory dance, dropped to third. Olympic silver medalists Tanith
Belbin and Ben Agosto are fourth.
Half the intrigue of ice dance is all the off-ice drama, and
Domnina and Shabalin were the clear winners coming into these
games. The theme for this year’s original dance is country/folk,
and the Russians angered folks from Australia to Canada with their
Aboriginal-themed routine and costumes. Some Australian Aboriginal
leaders called it offensive cultural theft, with inauthentic steps
and gaudy costumes. Canada’s Four Host First Nations expressed
concern, too, and actually met with Domnina and Shabalin after they
arrived last week.
But as the standings showed, this is an athletic competition not
Virtue and Moir’s flamenco was so hot the ice could have melted
beneath their blades. It had all the crisp, staccato movements of
classic flamenco, including stomps of his feet, sharp snaps of her
fingers and come-hither stares that could leave one weak in the
knees. They had great speed throughout, and their lifts showed
balance and strength.
As for their costumes – classic. Her dress, with its ruby-red
skirt and lacy black bodice, was gorgeous. Made for a good prop,
too, as she flipped it around to the beat of the music.
When they finished, they both screamed “Yes!” and the audience
Davis and White’s Bollywood-style dance is a feast for the
senses, packed with so many interesting body movements and
complicated steps that one almost doesn’t know where to look. Make
no mistake, though, they did more than just look pretty.
They were so fast they practically sprinted across the ice, yet
they stayed in character throughout and never once lost the playful
facial expressions that transported the audience to a wedding in
Mumbai. And for anyone who questions whether ice dance is a sport,
just watch their twizzles – spinning turns – that they paired with
arm and hand movements. Know how hard it is to pat your stomach and
rub your head at the same time? It’s like that. Only on skates. And
about 10 times harder.
The Americans were clearly superior to the Russians, but this is
ice dance and results haven’t always reflected what was done on the
In fact, the big winner at these Vancouver Games could be
skating’s much-maligned judging system. Russia is normally a
powerhouse in skating yet Evan Lysacek beat the heavily favored
Evgeni Plushenko, a result that still has the Russians upset. And
now two North American teams – yes, North American – lead a
discipline the Russians have owned.
Since dance became an Olympic sport in 1976, Russian or Soviet
couples have won all but two of the gold medals. But international
skating officials have insisted changes to the judging system have
made it more transparent and less political.
Though Domnina and Shabalin’s dance was energetic and
entertaining, it wasn’t nearly as difficult as those by the
Canadians or Americans. The biggest flaw was that it had no
recognizable melody, making it hard to find the dance beneath the
slapstick routine. The music was heavy on drums, didgeridoo riffs
and vocal sound effects – think screams and grunts. Not the kind of
sound fans can immediately identify.
Domnina and Shabalin did tone down their costumes. The color of
their bodysuits is now more beigey than brown. Some of the white
markings they had on their legs and arms were removed or toned
down. But he was still dressed in a loin cloth, and both were
covered with leaves.
“We changed it a little bit, made it more authentic and less
theatrical,” Shabalin said, crediting coach Natalia Linichuk.
“Natalia had a lot of discussions with people who know a lot about
the culture. We did big research when we chose this music, and
after all this, we did deeper research.”