SOCHI, Russia — Two and a half points doesn't sound like a lot, but in ice dancing, it's a mile. That's the lead that six-time U.S. national champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White take into the free dance, meaning that barring a major mistake, they will win the nation's first-ever Olympic gold medal in ice dancing Monday night at the 2014 Olympic Games.
That's a momentous thought, and a precarious one, because even though ice dancers don't perform the treacherous jumps of the sport's other three disciplines, their lightning quick footwork, looking so effortless, is anything but.
Still, it's 2½ points — 2.56 to be exact — in a sport where decimal points really matter. That's the difference between Davis and White and their Canadian rivals, training partners and good friends, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.
Is it too much? Let's ask the Canadians.
"We feel like we can make it up," Moir began at the skaters' news conference. "There's a lot more elements in the free program. So it's doable."
Then came the reality check.
"But we know with the team that we're sitting beside that they're going to bring a great skate," he continued. "We train with them every day so it's a task, but we think we're up to it and we just can't wait to get out there."
Moir vowed that he and Virtue would "bring it tomorrow, bring everything we have." Problem is, they did that Sunday night in the short dance, and it wasn't enough. They made a slight error in a compulsory set dance, not receiving the highest level of difficulty on a step sequence, which cost them nearly a point.
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But they still were pleased with how they performed. So that other 1 ½ points? It was the judges basically saying they liked Davis and White more. In this way, ice dancing becomes like the Academy Awards. Picture the Canadians as "Gravity" and the Americans as, well, "American Hustle." You get the picture.
Whatever happens Monday night is the ending of a four-year journey for these two teams who share a rink in suburban Detroit, a coach, a long friendship and an incomparable rivalry. They have traded world titles since the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, where the Canadians won the gold medal and the Americans, the silver. They have matched each other step for step, day by day, for the past four years on their way to the Sochi Games.
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But once they arrived, Davis and White began to pull away. In the team competition more than a week ago, the Americans won the short dance by three points and were nearly seven points ahead in the free dance as the Canadians were not on top of their game.
And then came Sunday night. Davis and White soared to their highest score of the season — 78.89 points — while the Canadians, clearly better than they were in the team event, did not reach their season's best, managing 76.33.
There are tea leaves to be read in all of this, if one wanted to go there.
"I think we're really focused on the moment and the task at hand, the free dance," White said. "We're not looking to the future. We're not looking at colors of medals. We've had a really great start to this event and we're going to treat it just like every other event and that's going out to compete like how we practice and enjoying being out there together. It's a special moment but I think throughout our whole career, a lot of the success we've had is because we just stay centered in the moment and don't think of the past, don't think of the future, but just enjoy what we have now."
Davis and White started skating together in 1997, when they both were 10. It's as if everything in their lives has been building to this moment: two nights in mid-February 2014, one after the other.
One is done. The other is waiting for them.