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

dance.

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

“Project Runway.”

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

erupted.

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

ice.

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.”