Meryl Davis, Charlie White win ice dance title at U.S. Figure Skating Championships

By Amy Shipley
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, January 24, 2010

SPOKANE, WASH. -- Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto oozed sentiment and emotion Saturday, even tears. In what was possibly their last appearance at the U.S. championships, the reigning Olympic silver medalists in ice dancing said goodbye from the heart, reflecting more on where they have come than on where they are going. Their next and perhaps last stop in the sport, of course, is the Winter Games in Vancouver in February.

But unlike four years ago, they will be entering as the second-best U.S. team.

As Belbin and Agosto bid adieu, Meryl Davis and Charlie White stormed into view, grabbing their second straight U.S. title -- but first with Belbin and Agosto in the field -- with a convincing victory that ignited its own emotional release. Theirs, however, felt like a celebration, a coming-out party.

"As soon as we finished, all we could say to each other was: 'Wow,' " White said. "It was a really special moment for us."

Davis, 23, and White, 22, defeated the team they once idolized in each segment of this three-stage competition, including Saturday's decisive free dance, where they tallied 108.76 points to Belbin and Agosto's 106.60 for a total of 222.29 to 218.51. Relying on pure speed, inventive lifts and a powerful connection built over their 13-year partnership, Davis and White wowed the Spokane Arena crowd and won over the judging panel.

"It's really a testament to our training and everything we've put into skating for the last 13 years," White said. "To come out at nationals and beat such an amazing team with the credentials that they have, it's huge for us, especially going into the Olympics. We're going to take that and run with it."

Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates of Ann Arbor finished in third place with 190.69 points overall, edging Kimberly Navarro and Brent Bommentre and presumably clinching the third Olympic team slot, which was scheduled to be announced late Saturday night. Springfield's Lauren Corry and Gambrills's Alexander Lovello claimed 14th place with a score of 113.46.

With Davis and White and Belbin, 25, and Agosto, 27, leading the way, the United States will send to Vancouver two teams with gold medal hopes. Davis and White used this season as a launching pad to international prominence, taking major steps since they finished fourth at last year's world championships in Los Angeles. At that event, Belbin and Agosto finished second.

Working harder than ever in the offseason, White and Davis selected two programs that have been extremely well received: a Bollywood-themed original dance and Saturday's free dance to "Music of the Night" from Phantom of the Opera. When Belbin and Agosto pulled out of the season-ending International Skating Union's Grand Prix in December because of Belbin's surgery for a wisdom tooth problem, Davis and White responded by winning the title.

Their free skate Saturday featured a dynamic lift in which Davis sat, facing backward, on White's shoulder blades, propping her foot against his outstretched back leg as he skated backward.

"It was something new and different, and we wanted to try it," White said. "It worked very well for us."

Belbin and Agosto said their free skate to the solemn "Ave Maria" and "Amen" from "Stabat Mater" was designed to reflect the sentimentality they expected to feel during what likely will be their final season. As Belbin talked about the standing ovation the two received, she choked up.

"When the music stopped, we started to let that hit us," Belbin said. "It felt so great to give a performance like this as a send-off."

Even Samuelson and Bates are expected to perform respectably in Vancouver; in their first world championships in 2009, they finished 11th. It's Davis and White, however, who are most likely to shake things up there.

"It's important in your home country to come out on top," Davis said. "What we're trying to do at the Olympics is win, so we want every little bit to help us."

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