After four years of buildup, and at least a week of talk about possibly corrupt judges, U.S. ice dancing stars Meryl Davis and Charlie White–America's only real hope for a figure skating gold in Sochi–delivered the goods on Monday, beating Canadian rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir by a healthy spread of 4.53 points. Was the fix in?
For a moment there, it looked like the Canadians might have a real shot at defending their title. Virtue and Moir threw it down in the short dance with a gorgeous, lyrical performance. Their lifts were perfect. Their lines were balletic. They were emotionally in sync, and so were their twizzles. But, as has happened so frequently over the course of the season, their command over the competition vanished when Davis and White stepped out on the ice and promptly eclipsed their lead.
The U.S. favorites went into today's free dance with a 2.56-point lead on the Canadians, and, despite the fact that Virtue and Moir delivered another standout performance on day two of the competition (for about 15 minutes, they held the world record for the highest recorded free dance score), Davis and White barely blinked.
Over the course of this Olympic games, the Americans broke ice dancing world records for high scores in the short program, the free skate, and the total combined score. They also managed to gin up some enthusiasm for ice dancing back home, which is an accomplishment in itself.
The two pairs teams share a coach, a training rink, and a tense, longtime rivalry, and they've been trading off titles for the last four years. But the momentum had been building steadily in Davis and White's favor: The two hadn't lost a competition since 2012. If Virtue and Moir are the more expressive team, Davis and White are famously consistent–even in practice–and more athletic than their Canadian counterparts. Meanwhile, Davis and White continued to steadily beef up their programs, adding speed and difficulty to their lifts and step sequences, even while Virtue and Moir seemed to lose ground.
After their huge free skate, which they performed without any significant errors (the judges gave them exclusively positive grades of execution and straight 10s for choreography and interpretation), Davis and White walked off the ice seeming to know they'd done more than enough to win.
Though the Davis/White vs. Virtue/Moir rivalry has dominated American ice dancing coverage this year, the competition for bronze was equally stiff. Unlike with the men's competition, which was basically one long string of disasters, the dancers for the most part, skated very, very well.
Going into the event, Russia's Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev had high hopes for bronze, but it was their teammates, Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov, who ended up on the medal stand after an electrifying free skate to Tchaikovsky's Swan Lake, throughout which the crowd was totally losing its mind. (Word to the wise: If you are a Russian figure skater, competing in the Russian-hosted Olympics, skating to the music of Swan Lake seems like a pretty good bet for you.) Bobrova and Soloviev finished fifth, followed by Italy's elegant Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte.
America's Madison Chock and Evan Bates skated a solid performance to the music of Les Misérables, delivering well-synchronized twizzles and seamless changes of position to finish up eighth. Meanwhile, Maia and Alex Shibutani–aka "the Shib sibs"–came in a respectable ninth place with their spirited dance to Michael Jackson's greatest hits, despite a wardrobe malfunction and subsequent deduction during a lift.
Before the competition had even wrapped up, speculation was swirling around the possibility that this year's skating conspiracy theory–that U.S. and Russian judges were fixing events to trade golds–had borne out. If the fix is not in against Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, then I'm the Princess of Wales," wrote the Toronto Star's Rosie DiManno (who also, it should be said, called ice dancing "a tawdry whore of a sport where the judges are the johns").
But Virtue and Moir, who, like Davis and White, are expected to retire following the Olympics, were much more gracious about their defeat. In the press conference following the competition, the duo said they were happy for Davis and White's success. Then Moir went back out to the ice and kissed the Olympic rings. And the creator of the move that had earned the Canadians a controversial deduction in the short program, who was cited by non-experts as evidence for the unfairness of Virtue and Moir's score, congratulated the Americans on their "well-deserved" gold. All is right in the ice dancing world.
Lucy Madison is a NYC-based writer and reporter. Her work has appeared at the Awl, the Hairpin, Interview, CBS News, and more. You can follow her on Twitter here.