I am not as adept at deciphering ice dancing technique as I am at singles and pairs skating. So I am going to point you toward this wonderful page at Ice-Dance.com which explains the Tango Romantica, which is the compulsory dance that was drawn for the Vancouver Winter Olympics. The compulsories open the ice dancing competition tonight, airing at 8pm eastern on NBC. Competition continues on Sunday with the original dance and concludes on Monday with the free dance.
The ice dancing event should be competitive here and unpredictable. There are three North American teams who are legitimate contenders for the gold medal - but no North American team has ever won the event. Additionally, we haven't seen one of the major contender pairs (Delobel and Schoenfelder) compete in over a year, so there is definitely an element of surprise there.
I'm not going to make official predictions but I have a feeling Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir will medal here. They are a fabulous and technically proficient couple, without a doubt one of the top three pairs, and they are Canada's best medal chance at these Olympics (sorry, Joannie!).
I think that leaves at least one of the major American teams out. But which will it be? Here are the six teams I think have the best chances to medal here. Listen for when the commentators talk about "deep edges" tonight, that's a sacred ice dancing compliment. Another major difference is the levels that the judges assign to the moves - the tiniest flaw or adjustment can mean the different between a level three move and a level four move. The judges are also looking for great presentation by the pairs...so everyone better bring the drama tonight!
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, USA: Four years ago, they won the silver medal in Torino. They were fun and crowd-pleasing and we all thought they would surely win some world championships with the retirement of several top pairs. However, they just have not been able to get it done. They were left off the world championship podium completely in 2008 (after a fluke fall by Belbin), but they did rebound last season to win the silver behind Russians Domnina and Shabalin. But they have had some troubles this season. They have two very good (if not great) programs, but they have not been scoring as high as Virtue and Moir and Davis and White. Their presentation is not as fresh as it used to be. And they were fairly easily beaten by American rivals Davis and White at the recent nationals.
The programs: Belbin and Agosto have improved in their compulsory dances over the years. However, from what I can tell, they haven't competed the Tango Romantica this season, which may not matter. I think their Moldavian folk (original) dance is very fun - but there were some speed issues on the steps at Nationals. It will likely be outshined by Davis and White's Indian dance and Virtue and Moir's Flamenco. Ave Maria is their free dance. This is their strongest dance, for me. It's definitely improved since they first unveiled it, and of course this pair knows how to perform the heck out of it. It's difficult and I think it will likely be one of the top dances of the night. Again, I think it might be shadowed by Davis and White, Virtue and Moir, and even Delobel and Schoenfelder.
Medal outlook: Like I said, at least one North American team is likely to be left in the cold (if not all three). And judging from the results this season, and even my own opinion of the dances, it might be Belbin and Agosto. I personally think that this pair's Olympic experience will be a great benefit to them, though. They don't often make big mistakes (although they do lose levels here and there). At the 2009 world championships, they lost due to a lower level of twizzle than the champions, Domnina and Shabalin, so they will have to watch every single move. This will likely be a close competition.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White, USA: Davis and White have the momentum coming into this competition. Not only have they beaten their contry rivals recently at the US Nationals, but they also beat Canada's Virtue and Moir at December's Grand Prix Final. Their programs are all well-received. The only thing I'm worried about is that they don't have Olympic experience and they've never medaled at worlds. I can see them making a mistake here or there as well, but I really hope not!
The Programs: Davis and White have skated the Tango Romantica this season and they have done well. They have the best original dance of the year (an Indian dance), in my opinion. I absolutely love it, and it's a YouTube sensation. If they skate it clean, it should score big time. Unfortunately, Davis had a twizzle problem at nationals, and she always seems to be about to lose it on the twizzles in this program, for some reason. I am hoping they can keep it all in check so that the program can be appreciated. I admit I don't love the music cuts for their Phantom of the Opera program; I thought they were jarring the first time I heard it. But I do love the program itself, and they were able to move me with overdone music, which is impressive. This should be a very high scoring skate and, at the very least, a crowd pleasing program. It's difficult and they know how to deliver it.
Medal Outlook: It may come down to neatness for Davis and White. They sometimes give points away, and they can't do that here and earn a medal.
Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder, France: This team was on a roll. They won the 2008 worlds, then won all of their Grand Prix events the next season and the Grand Prix Final. Then Delobel injured her shoulder and they had to miss worlds last season. And she got pregnant and they missed the Grand Prix season this year. And they refused to compete at the Europeans because the secret of their free dance would get out (or was it because they were not ready? We will never know). This is a great pair, the quality of their skating comes through. She is a joy to watch for me. Although the North Americans have won my heart this season, I can see this team coming in despite their long break and skating to the gold.
The Programs: This team hasn't skated Tango Romantica in years. And I haven't seen either their can can original dance or their free dance to a French version of The Impossible Dream. I am really not sure what kind of shape they're in and they may be rusty but it doesn't sound like it. If they can come out and skate like they've never been gone, I will be duly impressed with them.
Medal Outlook: I know the judges love them and they are a great pair, with deep edges and a lot of feeling. I expect that barring any major disasters, they will score very high and are a good bet for a medal.
Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, Russia: Domnina and Shabalin are the reigning world champions. I would say that they are not my cup of tea, although I can objectively see that they belong with the top pairs. They finished ninth at the last Olympics, but they have been plagued with injuries over the years, which is why they missed this entire Grand Prix season and have not competed against the North American teams. They finally broke out last season and won the world championships for the first time. At Europeans this season, they won the competition on the basis of their big compulsories lead, although they lost the other portions of the competition. The
Programs: Aside from Tango Romantica, I don't think their dances are particularly strong this season. Their original dance has been criticized as derogatory to Aboriginal people it's supposed to be honoring, and they had to scrap the costumes because they were deemed offensive and were drawing too many complaints. Costumes or not, it's not a good dance. I assume the injury has made it difficult to perfect their dances. I didn't think their free dance touched the ones we saw by the North Americans.
Medal Outlook: I almost expect them to win, but mainly because they are the reigning world champions. Their skating does not appear up to their normal levels.
Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali, Italy: This is a pair of veterans. This will be their third Olympics, and they have never cracked the top ten. They have also never won a world medal, but they recently outscored world champs Domnina and Shabalin in two portions of the European championships competition, so who knows what is going to happen. They have a reputation as story-tellers. They are super dramatic and I think they just don't always get the job done technically. For example, recent mistakes in the compulsories at Europeans may have cost them the title. However, they should take confidence from the fact that they beat the reigning world champions, Domnina and Shabalin, in both the original dance and the free dance at the Europeans. The Programs: They made mistakes on Tango Romantica at Europeans, which may have cost them the gold. Although they won the original dance and free dance portions of the competition, their programs are not among the tops for me. If they perform them flawlessly and with emotion, though, they may score well here.
Medal outlook: I think the odds aren't good, but perhaps they could sneak onto the podium if both D&S teams are hampered by their lack of recent experience and nagging injuries. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Canada: Virtue and Moir are a beautiful, beautiful and technically proficient team, with such a deep connection. They have quickly jumped into the top level of ice dancing and have already medaled twice at the world championships. They train with Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The Pacific Coliseum is going to be CRAZY when these two take the ice.
The Programs: They are solid at Tango Romantica but they really get me with their Flamenco original dance and their free dance to Mahler. The original dance is so difficult and so interesting to me. They've had some slipups on it in competition this season so hopefully they won't repeat that here. Their free dance is very understated but the lifts are so amazing that you will literally have to go back and watch them in slow motion. Medal Outlook: They are the only team here to have medaled in the last two world championships, and they are the home team. It looks good for them. But, can they beat Davis and White? Watch out for: France's Pechalat and Bourzat, Italy's Cappellini and Lanotte, Russia's Khokhlova and Novitski, and Americans Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates. Samuelson and Bates are not expected to medal but this will be a good experience for them as they try to move up internationally.