Sochi, Russia — The ultimate goal was not at all the point of the competition. But the competition may have revealed much about it.
Meryl Davis and Charlie White, the world champion ice dancing duo from Michigan, skated stalwartly in their portion of the first team figure skating competition in the Winter Olympics on Saturday, pushing Team USA from fifth to third, with a 75.96 score in their short dance.
They bested defending Olympic champions, and their friends and training partners in Canton, the Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, across all judging categories.
Moir and Virtue scored 72.98.
Davis (West Bloomfield) and White (Bloomfield Hills) are the first Americans to win a world championship in ice dancing and are favorites for the gold medal in the traditional event Feb. 16 and 17. But their only previous skate against Virtue and Moir this season was a win by half that margin, a mere sliver.
Make no mistake, Virtue and Moir and even a fine Russian team skating here, Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev — who placed third at 70.27 — could deprive Davis and White of the Olympic dream for which they have strived for much more than half their young lives.
While, in the spirit of the competition, the skaters all talked about trying to win the first gold medal in Olympic team figure skating and how much fun it is to compete as a team, there was an inescapable sense Davis and White continue to push their advantage in international ice dancing over the defending Olympic champions and the rest of the field.
It may not have been their best short program of the season. But that only adds to the point, because they remained the best when not at their best.
After two world championships and six U.S. championships, the two students at the University of Michigan clearly came to Sochi to claim the gold in their prime event.
And it also is clear Davis and White left the ice feeling encouraged and well-trimmed, and that Virtue and Moir quite nearly wished they had the skate back, especially a ruinous performance of an element called the synchronized twizzle.
It was unsynchronized. There was so little simultaneous twirling they quite nearly appeared to skate independently, and not just for a moment.
Coming as the second of five elements in their short dance, it nearly left them reeling.
Champions they are, however, and the Canadians managed to mount a recovery. But it was too late.
And the judges made that plain, awarding points for "Performance/Execution" that were generally well below Davis and White.
The initiative the American duo first seized a season after their silver medal in 2010 in Vancouver by winning the World Championship remains theirs.
"Yeah, it felt really good out there," White said.
Then he talked about their fondness for the team competition and how close the American squad is. White even lives with some of the other skaters.
He is the captain of the squad and he compared the feeling of camaraderie and shared effort with another sport he once played before it became all figure skating all of the time — hockey. White talked about working hard in practice for the team.
One almost waited hear the fabled words of another guy from Ann Arbor, now deceased; Bo Schembechler.
"The team! The team! The team!"
But there were telling words that applied to the greater point.
"We readied ourselves to go out there and we did a great job of meeting our own expectations," White said.
Then Davis staked a claim as an athlete who simply will not be deterred.
Much of media corps was consumed with a report in one French newspaper the Americans and Russians are somehow colluding to deny Virtue and Moir a second gold medal. Such collusion occurred in the past in the sport, tainting it with scandal.
As if flicking a piece of lint from her striking, pretty-in-pink new dress, she essentially said: First I hear of it, and why would we pay much, if any, attention to such things at this moment in our careers?
"That's unfortunate," Davis allowed. "But we're so focused on our jobs, and we really don't know a lot about anything else.
"We're confident that what we're putting out on to the ice kind of speaks for itself. That's kind of what we stand behind."
Then the reporters asked if they were disappointed to have to deal with the accusation.
It was White's turn at bat.
"You know, I think what's great about us is that having been together for 17 years and having been through the sport and ups and downs, we sort of live by our own expectations, and coming into each event we just want to do our best.
"And so, we don't let any sort of external factors, be it big or small, play into any sort of equation of what we're doing or what we're expecting or how we want to skate
"We're loving that we had a great first skate. So we're just trying to keep the ball rolling."
In other words, the captain says damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.
Getting ahead of themselves is something the two-time world champions are intent upon avoiding.
Right now, it is the team, the team, the team. But it is always about their job, their job, their job.
Their contribution elevated the team two positions in the standings. They were there again by the end of the day, leading into the wind-up Sunday.
While Virtue and Moir were left to contemplate the lack of synchronicity in their twizzle — multiple twists, like the licorice product — the contrast was striking.
The Canadians, who spend a good part of their year in Michigan, are super-competitive. One can read it especially in Moir's face.
As they left the ice, before he got to the television networks in what at the Olympics is called "the mixing zone" where the athletes meet the media, he shouted out to support staff, asking if they had seen the result and judges details that break down the scoring.
The champion's constitution is such that he needed to know, and right then.
The Canadians' lines remain strikingly elegant. They are great skaters. The gold normally does not dangle from the necks of those who are not.
But nothing that occurred in the short dance of the team competition offered any sense that Davis and White are about to yield the initiative.
They looked, as they have for some time, now, like two athletes who can smell the garlands.
Sunday brings another head-to-head between the four pals and stable mates.
The captain and his distinguished partner of all those years will say that, right now, it is about the team.
Soon enough, it will not be.