Meryl Davis and Charlie White complete ice dance sweep
There was never any doubt.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White finished a clean sweep of all three phases in the ice dance competition at the U.S. Championships with a free dance Saturday to "Phantom of the Opera'' that had athletic pyrotechnics as dramatic as the Andrew Lloyd Webber musical.
The University of Michigan juniors, who never before had beaten five-time U.S. champions Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto in any phase of a competition, did it handily in all three parts this week.
Davis and White had won last year's nationals in the absence of their rivals, because Agosto had a bad back.
"[Beating Belbin and Agosto] is really a testament to our training and everything we have put into skating for 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.''
Davis and White received a meet record score of 222.29, breaking Belbin and Agosto's 2008 mark of 216.09.
Belbin and Agosto placed second at 218.51. Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, also University of Michigan students, were third at 190.69.
They all will almost certainly be selected for the three dance spots on the U.S. Olympic team. That would not be determined until next Saturday night.
Davis, 23, and White, 22, who have been skating together for nearly 14 years, delighted the Spokane Arena crowd with their eye-catching lifts, especially one in which they were positioned in opposite directions. She is sitting on the back of his shoulders, with her arms spread, balancing her left leg on White's right calf as he skates backward.
"I know it looks dangerous, but it really isn't that hard,'' White said of a lift for which they have not yet devised a name.
"It was a little scary at first, but he's a trustworthy guy,'' Davis said.
Belbin and Agosto, the 2006 Olympic silver medalists, relentlessly downplayed the significance of winning a sixth title, saying they were treating this as a final practice for the OIympics, a rationalization that effectively made a mockery of nationals.
The flamboyant costumes they wore, which appeared to bare several parts of her upper body as well as his chest, also made a mockery of their music, set to the Ave Maria and the Stabat Mater. The latter is one of the most solemn Catholic hymns, depicting the sorrow of the Virgin Mary as she looks at Christ on the cross.
Belbin said they are trying to tell the story of a young woman struggling with her inner demons who is put on the right path by the guardian angel Agosto represents. His sequined, white costume would have better suited an Elvis impersonator.
"It's figure skating,'' Belbin said.
"It depends on how close you are to them,'' Agosto said, standing a few feet from the media in the mixed zone. "At this distance, of course it's going to look very flashy. From far away, it is going to give a little more of an artistic impression.''
The impression it left was jarring, discordant and possibly disrespectful.
-- Philip Hersh, reporting from Spokane, Wash.
Photo: Charlie White and Meryl Davis perform their free dance routine during the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Saturday. Credit: Rick Bowmer / Associated Press