After curling, no Winter Olympics sport is more maligned than ice dancing, which begins Feb. 16. (Watch the short dance live on NBCSN, starting at 10 a.m. ET, ahead of NBC’s primetime coverage. The free skate airs live on NBCSN at 10 a.m. ET on Feb. 17, when medals are decided.) As you heard countless times during the figure skating team event, the greatest rivalry in the sport is between the USA’s reigning world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White, who’ve been undefeated in the last two years, and their training mates, Canada’s reigning Olympic gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. The gold medal could come down to a bobble in a twizzle — the traveling side-by-side spins on one foot that test their unison (and balance) — or a hesitation in a lift.
Arguing over whether ice dancing is a “sport” is futile. Those who say it’s not will always argue that there’s too much emphasis on the “artistic” side, which, granted, can result in catastrophically questionable choices such as that “aboriginal” program from Russia’s Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin at the Vancouver Games. Those who say it is will always point to the difficulty of the above mentioned twizzles and lifts and to the intricacies of skating that closely while matching steps down to the depth of a curve and to the height of a raised arm or leg. It’s the symmetry of the latter that makes Torvill and Dean’s “Bolero” program still hypnotic 30 years after they skated it to Olympic gold in Sarajevo.
Regardless of where you stand on the “sport” issue, here’s what’s undeniable: When athleticism and artistry are combined perfectly, ice dancing can become the most entertaining discipline of figure skating to watch. Here are just a few of the reasons you’ll want to tune in (particularly to the Feb. 17 free skate, which is where most of these moments will be replicated).
Russia’s “B team” Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov stole the free skate in the team event with their wildly inventive lifts.
Receiving a deduction because a feather fell off her costume is a point for the non-believers, I realize.
Virtue and Moir defy gravity with their core strength…
As do Davis and White.
Meryl and Charlie worked on the physics of this lift (shown as U.S. Nationals) for years.
Here’s another nice lift at Nationals from the U.S.’s Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who’ll do their free skate to music from “Les Miserables,” a very popular choice in Sochi for all disciplines.
Proving ice dancing is dangerous, look at the crash she had practicing at Nationals.
Here are the U.S.’s Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, the “Shib Sibs,” skating their free skate to a Michael Jackson medley at Nationals. They actually worked with Jackson’s choreographers.
“Twizzles” is just fun to say.
Below, we asked Tara Lipinski, who’ll continue to provide live skating commentary on NBCSN with Johnny Weir and Terry Gannon, to defend ice dancing as well.
And P.S. Let’s not forget how breathtaking Virtue and Moir can be when they create their own breeze and unmatched chemistry. Here they are clinching gold in Vancouver.
And here they are skating to “Stay” in a Stars on Ice show.