America’s ice dancers continue their legacy heading to the Beijing Games
American figure skaters who win national championships have their names inscribed on a plaque and a trophy. It’s something they appreciate.
It’s also something special to browse the names already there – especially for ice dancers.
For decades, ice dancing has been the daughter of American figure skating. While both men and women reached the highest levels in the individual events and even pair skaters were highly regarded, there was not much success for the dancers. From Colleen O’Connor and James Millns who won bronze at the Olympics from 1976 to 2002, no American has won medals.
During this century, however, it has become the most consistent discipline for Americans. Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto won silver in 2006, Meryl Davis and Charlie White followed with silver in 2010, gold in 2014. Maia and Alex Shibutani took bronze four years ago.
In every year but two since 2005, the Americans have been on the podium at the world championships, including two gold medals for Davis and White.
Current representatives of the United States at the Olympics recognize – and revere – these couples and their achievements.
“I think it’s really interesting to watch and see Naomi (Lang) and Peter (Chernyshev) with four, then Tanith and Ben with five, then Meryl and Charlie with six. As a competitor, you think, ‘Oh , I could have four at the most,” says Madison Hubbell, a three-time national champion and three-time world medalist with partner Zach Donohue. “I think Meryl and Charlie, kind of for me it was who I grew up with and they stared the bar, and everyone wanted to be them, wanted to catch them, wanted the excellence that they were able to put on every time.
Evan Bates was even more touched by Davis-White and Belbin-Agosto, who had all skated for the Detroit Skating Club. He’s heading into his fourth Games, his third with Madison Chock, the current national champions.
“I feel like this generation of skaters grew up with Tanith and Ben, Meryl and Charlie,” says Bates, “and I’m incredibly proud to be an American ice dancer. And that makes the American Championships in this discipline, I think, extremely important as a competition. It’s not easy to win an American championship and get your name on that cool trophy with the blades.
“And personally to go to the Olympics again and have the opportunity (previously) to be on a team with Tanith and Ben, to be on a team with Meryl and Charlie and to be role models in the sport And growing up in Michigan, and just from the early years of my career, having these people around me, learning and studying with them in a way, had a huge impact on me. I’m incredibly proud to be at the alongside those who came before us.
These words from the current generation of American Olympic ice dancers – Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker form the third pair – almost make the people they idolize blush. It’s not particularly a sensation that Davis and White experienced on the ice, where they were masterful technicians, enjoyable entertainers and perennial champions.
Oh yes, the pioneers too.
“I’ve always believed that if you aim high enough, commit deep enough, and work hard enough, anything is possible,” Davis says. “In terms of legacy, I just hope that the few people who really know and love us will remember us as good people. On the ice and off, I think that’s all you can hope for.
“It’s pretty special to see American ice dancing continue to soar. From those top three American teams that made it to Beijing, to some amazing young teams that made their national debuts in 2022, there’s a clear commitment to excellence throughout. Although it has been a number of years since Charlie and I have been on the competitive ice, I still feel part of the community. I’m proud to see former teammates and friends still achieve their dreams.
Those dreams naturally include going for gold in Beijing. It’s a tough task because Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, who train in Montreal with the top three American pairs, won silver four years ago and are heavy favorites. The other main contenders for the podium are Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov from Russia, and Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier from Canada.
But, as one longtime figure skating coach often says with a laugh, “The ice is slippery.
At least two of the US duos – Chock and Bates, and Hubbell and Donohue – will almost certainly compete in the team event, where the US has won bronze at the past two Olympics and could reach silver this year; Russia is a prohibitive favorite for gold.
“There are so many teams capable of getting on the Olympic podium. It’s going to be an exciting event,” says Belbin, who comments for NBC and is married to White. “What’s amazing to me is that they all have such different strengths and styles. When it comes to the final free dance event, everyone will be able to make a unique and equally compelling argument as to why they should win an Olympic medal. »
If they do, they owe a lot of credit to their predecessors such as Belbin and Agosto, whose breakthrough inspired those who followed.
“I’m incredibly proud of the entire US ice dance program: past, present and future,” notes Belbin. “Each generation has built on the legacy of the last, with athletes continuing to find their own path through sport.”
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