A sultry performance that lasted four spellbinding minutes, but was 17 years in the making, propelled Meryl Davis and Charlie White to become the first Americans to win the Winter Olympics ice dance title at the Sochi Games on Monday.
In a showdown with rivals and Canadian training partners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the US couple proved a cut above the rest by winning with a world-record total of 195.52 in the Russian city.
An adventure that began in 1997, when a nine-year-old Davis was left blushing and tongue-tied after being told to gaze deeply into her eight-year-old partner’s eyes, ended on Monday with the duo exchanging looks of joy.
“We’re so excited, we’re kind of in shock a little. I’m not sure what we’re feeling,” a beaming Davis told reporters after improving on their silver medal from four years ago.
“To come away with a gold medal is amazing ... and 17 years of hard work was justified,” White added.
From the moment the Americans stepped on the ice, with Davis wearing a sequined purple halter neck dress and White in an embroidered velvet jacket, the crowd waited with bated breath to see which side of the International Boundary the gold medal would end up in.
The Americans were soon showing why they have been unbeatable for 22 months, flying around the ice at a frantic pace, seamlessly weaving dazzling lifts and synchronized twizzles into their dramatic performance of Scheherazade — the story of a sultan’s wife whose enchanting tales stopped her husband’s bizarre habit of marrying a new wife each day and beheading the previous one.
When White held Davis aloft in the splits as he spun around rapidly, the crowd cheered, and when he stood with one blade on her right thigh with her other leg wrapped around his shoulder, they roared.
When White ended the performance on bended knees, he was shattered, and struggled to put one boot in front of the other as the couple skated off the rink. Yet when their scores flashed up to confirm them as only the fourth non-Russian couple to scoop the gold, there were hugs all around.
A journey that has led the US pair to two world championships, five consecutive grand prix finals and a record six successive US National titles, has ended with the biggest prize of all.
They finished off with a flourish, earning world-record scores in each segment of the competition, following up their 78.89 in the short with 116.63 in the long program.
“Gold is something that you dream about. It has been an amazing journey,” a dazed White said.
Virtue and Moir had hoped to join Russians Oksana Grishuk and Evgeny Platov as the only couples to have won back-to-back Olympic ice dance golds, but had to settle for silver with 190.99.
The Canadian duo, who charmed the world four years ago on home ice in Vancouver, were delighted with their classical interpretation of Petit Adagio, Waltz in Concerto No. 2.
They ended their stirring program with their palms pressed to their hearts, but despite earning a season-best score of 114.66 for the free dance, they could not topple the Americans.
“That was our best performance of the year for that program. It’s our baby and it’s special for us to perform it for the last time,” Moir said.
However, once the scores of the Americans, who skated last, flashed up, Moir could only shrug in disappointment.
With both couples hinting that the Olympics will be their swansong, they played out the final chapter of an intense rivalry that dates back more than a decade.