Detroit — Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the two-time World Champions, Olympic silver medalists and prospective favorites for gold at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, vaulted to the top of the field after the short dance Friday in the Skate America competition at Joe Louis Arena.
“We put on a good performance; it wasn’t perfect,” White said, after competing in the first round of the International Skating Union event. The free dance is Saturday night.
Davis and White were skating in competition in front of their hometown fans for the first time in more than a decade.
“We feel that we have a lot of room to grow,” White said. “But at this point of the season it is definitely one of our most solid programs. We worked really hard to just sort of show that ballroom skill off, and I think we accomplished that.
“Technically, we improved over the last competition, and that was really important,” he said. “That’s a good place to get a lot of points. And, I think we feel the program is heading in the right direction, so we’re really pleased today.”
The two natives of Metro Detroit, who were raised and still train here and are students at the University of Michigan, skated to “I Could Have Danced All Night” from “My Fair Lady” and led by a healthy six points, 75.70 to 69.68, over Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy in second.
Cappellini and Lanotte live part of the year in Metro Detroit, while training in Novi.
Sister and brother Maia and Alex Shibutani of Ann Arbor, who train in Canton with Davis and White and also attend U-M, were in third place, eight points behind the Italians, at 61.28.
“We were really happy with our performance today; we thought it was a great start to our season,” said Maia Shibutani, who, with her older brother, are originally from Boston. “We had some technical things we could improve on.
“It was our first competition, the crowd was great and it was great to be here in Detroit.”
The ice dance, one of four Olympic and international figure skating events, is not only dominated at present by teams from the United States, along with Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, but most top competitors train in Metro Detroit and Ann Arbor.
Madison Hubbell, who was born in Lansing, raised in Okemos and lives in Ann Arbor, skated with partner Zachary Donahue to their season’s best score in the short dance to place fourth going into the free skate.
Hubbell and Donahue train in Ann Arbor.
There were two big surprises in the men’s short dance, in advance of the final performances today.
For one young American, it may have been a “star is born” moment.
Jason Brown, 18, of Los Angeles, who replaced injured Olympic champion Evan Lysacek in the competition for the U.S., after Lysacek withdrew, stunned the field by finishing second.
“It’s such an honor getting to compete here in Detroit,” Brown said. “And the support that the audience gave was so incredible, and that is definitely something that I love.
“I was really excited to go out and compete like I was training, and I definitely hope I can do that for the long program, as well.”
The second big surprise occurred among the strong contingent of men from Japan.
Tatsuki Machida surpassed his two highly favored countrymen, Takahiko Kozuka and Daisuke Takahashi, to lead the men’s event, after the short skate.
The ice dance and men’s free skates are slated for Saturday, along with the short programs for the ladies and pairs.