Figure Skating

Scott Russell - Monday Feb. 17, 2014 18:55

Dancing around the truth: The golden age of ice dance

Virtue/Moir and Davis/White immeasurably elevate the sport

Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir finish their last Olympic skate

Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir share a moment at the end of the free dance on Monday at the Sochi Olympics — what they've said will be their last Olympic performance. (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

Just in case you don’t think that people care about ice dancing, or that it really matters in the grand scheme of things … you might want to reconsider.

I ran into the management team of the Canadian men’s hockey team in the Olympic plaza on the morning of Day 10, and they practically bombarded me with questions about the chicanery that has revealed itself at the Iceberg Skating Palace.

“Hey Scotty, what’s going on with the ice dance marks?” said Ken Holland, GM of the Detroit Red Wings. “Yeah, what’s the deal with us being second … I thought Tessa and Scott were great?” queried Kevin Lowe of the Edmonton Oilers.

“Just don’t get it,” shrugged a downtrodden Doug Armstrong, the manager of the St. Louis Blues.

Their incredulity went on and on.

We never ended up talking about hockey at all.

I guess it’s just something about the ice dance that inspires this kind of microscopic analysis and gnashing of teeth. We love it for its beauty and yet we are so offended by it because it is so obviously open to interpretation when what we really want is a clear-cut winner.

There is no race to be run or finish line to reach in the ice dance.

At the same time, there’s no clock to beat or puck to put in the net.

Unlike other disciplines of figure skating, there are no jumps or throws which present watershed moments of success or failure, the things that generally indicate to the majority of casual but fascinated observers who the best on the ice actually is.

Nope, in the ice dance you have to live with subtleties.

There are intricate lifts, spins and step sequences which are judged to have levels of value. Then those levels of value are applied to the speed, power, and artistic impression encompassed in the execution of the skills.

The end result is a total score.

This is, without doubt, an inexact science. It’s a hybrid of art and sport and sometimes it’s overwhelming because it seems to be an impossibly fine line to walk.

This is not to mention the fact that it can be frustrating as hell when the judges aren’t as enamoured with the very things that we’ve fallen in love with.

Hence the situation that exists involving the 2010 Olympic champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, and Meryl Davis and Charlie White of U.S.A., who have just become the 2014 Olympic champions in the ice dance.

I watched very carefully as both teams executed their final routines at the magnificent Iceberg Skating Palace. They were both, in my opinion, incredible.

A place for subjectivity

To be completely truthful, from an aesthetic point of view at least, I enjoyed the performance of the Canadians much better. It moved me more, and I found the special connection that exists between Virtue and Moir to be very appealing and quite convincing. But then again, I’ve covered figure skating for a long time and I know them on a personal level reasonably well. Add to that I’m a Canadian and secretly I’m always pulling for them to win.

Still, if I’m being open and honest about the whole deal, I marveled at the speed with which Davis and White moved around the rink and executed what appeared to be myriad impossible tricks.

They didn’t, as far as my eyes could tell, put a foot wrong.

In the end, when the results were announced I wasn’t so much indignant as I was resigned, and in a sense accepting of what had just happened. Davis and White won gold while Virtue and Moir won silver.

The truth that we’re all dancing around, when it comes to this discipline of skating, is that much of it revolves around what kind of art you happen to like. While it’s true that the obvious standards have to be applied it is equally correct to say that there is room for subjective opinion here.

And to me, that’s still a valuable commodity to have on the Olympic stage. People have different tastes, but surely no one can quibble with the fact that Davis and White as well as Virtue and Moir have raised the level of their sport immeasurably.

Both are Olympic champions and will remain so for all time. No one can dispute that.

They represent the golden age of the ice dance, and I can only speak for myself, but their rivalry and the dramatic culmination of it at centre ice tonight has made me a devotee of what they do.


Because it’s fascinating and marvellous, and just like the guys I met in the Olympic plaza today, it has me talking and ruminating about something beyond hockey.

And as far as I can tell, that’s the truth about ice dancing.

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