The fact that we've finally come to the Olympics is unbelievable! It's what so many athletes have worked so hard far! Over the next four days I'm going to break down who to watch in Vancouver beginning today with Ice Dance.
The Ice Dance competition will be the first time we get to see all the World's best in one competition this season. Odd viral infections, bum knees, newborn babies, and even teeth have kept the best from going head-to-head this season but it all changes in Vancouver. Who are the six teams I think we need to watch?
Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto (USA) - The 2006 Olympic Silver Medalists had a great Grand Prix season with two wins at Samsung Anycall Cup of China and Cancer.Net Skate America but hit a road bump when they had to withdraw from the Grand Prix Final due to a tooth infection from Tanith. The team hit another hurdle when they were unable to win back their U.S. Title in Spokane, settling for Silver. Even still, they have tons of experience to bank on including the fact they've managed Olympic Pressure before. Despite the loss at Nationals it was an extremely close race and I suspect they'll be right in the thick of it in Vancouver.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA) - They enter these Olympics as the team to beat. Two wins on the Grand Prix at Rostelecom Cup and NHK Trophy, a win at the Grand Prix Final (becoming the first American team to win that event), and a win at Nationals has put the target squarely on their backs. With success comes expectations and pressure and this team doesn't have the base of experience to fall back on that many of the others have but they seem to be in a groove. At U.S. Nationals they skated one of the best Free Dances I've ever seen and had the audience out of their seats instantly. If they can hold up under pressure they may find themselves with some hardware around their neck...the bling bling kind.
Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder (FRA) - The 2008 World Champs have been out of competition for over a year now due in large part to Isabelle's pregnancy. They enter the Olympics as the complete wildcard...nobody knows how they will perform, if they are prepared, how their programs will stack? They stated they were ready to compete at the European Championships but the French Skating Federation opted to not send them to Tallinn wanting to keep their programs a "secret." It will be interesting to see how this team re-enters the mix. I'm still convinced they are a Gold Medal threat...they have so much experience that cannot be ignored. They have been skating together the longest of anyone in the competition...20 years! 16th in Salt Lake City, 4th in Torino, Gold in Vancouver?
Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin (RUS) - The Olympics haven't yet begun and already there is controversy. Domnina and Shabalin have been all over the skating headlines due to their controversial Original Dance they are set to compete in Vancouver. People are already speculating as to what the fall out would be should the reigning World Champs win Gold in Vancouver with what many are calling a highly offensive dance. Everyone will be watching to see if they've made the modifications that Aboriginal Leaders have asked them to make. Many in the skating world fear this controversy will be the black cloud that hangs over the figure skating event in Vancouver. To be sure, it will be an interesting game of 'Public Relations Chess' to watch. Having won at Europeans, they enter this competition as the top seeded Europeans.
Federica Faiella and Massimo Scali (ITA) - I thought this team was toast after a disappointing finish at World's last season. Despite a bumpy beginning to this season which included some illness and minor injuries, this team is surging at just the right time. While only second overall at Europeans, they did manage to beat Domnina and Shabalin in both the Original Dance and Free Dance at the competition. This team has an amazing ability to tell stories, something they do brilliantly in their programs this season. This veteran team which, like Delobel and Schoenfelder, are entering their 3rd Olympics and are looking to land on the podium this time.
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (CAN) - They'll have the crowd behind them and they have looked great this season. They traded season best scores back and forth on the Grand Prix with Davis and White and came desperately close to winning the Grand Prix Final, less than two points behind Davis and White. They recently gave a performance at Canadian Nationals that was equally impressive to Davis and White's U.S. Nationals performance. I'm not certain if having the crowd on their side will be helpful or put un-nerving pressure on them. I suspect this team will do very well here in Vancouver and I wouldn't be surprised in the least bit if they managed to nab the Gold right at home.
I promise you, Ice Dance will be one of the (if not the most) closest competitions in Figure Skating at the Olympics. It promises to be exciting. There is quite a cast of second string players that may factor in if teams at the top make critical errors. Don't forget to keep an eye on: Pechalat and Bourzat, Khoklova and Novitski, Cappellinni and Lanotte, Zaretski and Zaretski, Kerr and Kerr, and Crone and Poirier.