DAVID GREENE, HOST:
At the Winter Games in Sochi, many of the American athletes who arrived with hopes for medals and high expectations have come up short. But if anyone's going to live up to the hype it might be the ice dancing duo of Charlie White and Meryl Davis. NPR's Tamara Keith introduces us to the two skaters.
TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: Ice dancing is a thing of precision and beauty
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
KEITH: Of foxtrots and quicksteps and twizzles, all set to music from an era when people still put on hats and gloves and went out to dance the foxtrot.
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KEITH: And whatever it is that makes ice dancing judges swoon, Davis and White seem to have mastered it, last night in their short program to the tune of My Fair Lady.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Singing) I could have danced all night. I could have danced...
KEITH: White's costume, a tuxedo with tails; his trademark blond curly hair flopping around. Davis wore a pink high necked dress - dark hair up in a twist, the image of control and perfection. Together they floated across the ice in a way that looked effortless, their footwork perfectly in synch while smiling, gazing into each others eyes just longingly enough to make it believable.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: The short dance score for Charlie White and Meryl Davis of the United States of America: 78.
KEITH: Seventy-eight point eight-nine. That puts them in a comfortable lead, two and a half points ahead of their nearest rivals, the Canadian team of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. They won gold four years ago at the Olympics in Vancouver. At a post competition press conference, White said his performance with Davis felt easy and light.
CHARLIE WHITE: You know, it felt like we were just enjoying skating with one another and I think that's what came across.
KEITH: And heading into tonight's free program, Davis and White are the ones to beat, who may well be unbeatable.
MERYL DAVIS: I think it's something you have to earn. We've worked hard for people to have great expectations from us.
KEITH: Meryl Davis says they've been skating towards this moment since they were 10 years old.
DAVIS: We've worked hard to be in the place we are now. And we wouldn't have worked so hard if that wasn't where we wanted to be. So, you know, we feel we're in a great spot and honored to be where we are.
KEITH: One quirk of the ice dancing world is its center of gravity is the metro Detroit area. It seems everybody who's anybody in the sport trains there. Davis and White actually work with the same coach as the Canadian team of Virtue and Moir. And for a long time, the Canadians got most of the attention, says Evan Bates, a veteran American ice dancer.
EVAN BATES: They've had to battle to get to the top. And now that they're there, I really hope that they can win this, the greatest prize of all in our sport.
KEITH: He says all the earnestness Davis and White project is real.
BATES: They're extremely hard working, devoted. And if you meet them off the ice away from the venue, you would never know the kind of success that they've had because they're so grounded and just level headed. Very, very nice people.
KEITH: But don't ask Charlie White about winning the gold. He swears, even, as it is so clearly in reach, they aren't thinking about the color of medals.
WHITE: We're not preparing every day to win a gold medal, but to do something that we're really proud of on the ice and can remember forever.
KEITH: If Davis and White pull it off they will be the first American duo on the ice - either pairs or ice dancing - to win gold.
Tamara Keith, NPR News, Sochi.
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