An Olympic Ice Storm

Two powerhouse coaches will see their bitter feud play out in Sochi

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Shpilband skated professionally in shows, but to help him earn more money, Johns and other coaches threw him some young students to work with. Transplanted from a country that had won seven of the 10 Olympic golds awarded in ice dancing, Shpilband was blissfully ignorant of the American perceptions of the sport and set about training his young charges to become future champions. "U.S. ice dancers needed to be more theatrical, more out there and over the top," says Judy Blumberg, who competed for the U.S. in the 1980 and 1984 Olympics. Shpilband brought that desperately needed quality to American teams--as well as a strict training ethic. "He had a Russian approach, and he wouldn't say, 'That was O.K.,' " says Ben Agosto, whom Shpilband paired with Tanith Belbin and guided to a silver in 2006, the U.S.'s first Olympic ice dancing medal in 20 years. "He'd say, 'That wasn't good enough.' "

A turning point in the sport came in 2001, when Shpilband and Johns invited Zoueva to join the increasingly popular program. It was a shrewd move that coincided with a change in rules that made the judging of ice dance more objective. Zoueva, a former junior ice dancer who hailed from the same Red Army Skating Club in Moscow where Shpilband trained, was a perfect match for him in mind-set and vision. Best known for her work with Ekaterina Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov, the elegant pairs team and two-time Olympic figure-skating champs, she brought a creative flair to the coaching and choreography and a laserlike focus on conditioning and off-ice training. She and Shpilband consulted with acrobats from Cirque du Soleil to mastermind breathtaking lifts and invited dance specialists to give their skaters' programs the authenticity and memorable moments that judges rewarded.

As Shpilband and Zoueva's success grew, so did demands on their time. In 2003 they moved their program 30 miles (48 km) west to Arctic Edge Arena in the Detroit suburb of Canton, where daily, dedicated time for ice dancing was available. Joining them at their new facility were Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (whom the two guided to Olympic gold in 2010), as well as Madison Chock and Evan Bates and the up-and-coming brother-sister team of Maia and Alex Shibutani.

There was also Meryl Davis and Charlie White, hoping to outdance the Canadians to win the U.S.'s first gold in the event. Davis had never danced before when she was paired with White in 1997. "I'm not going to lie, I was a little put off that she didn't know anything about ice dance, since I was already on the European waltz," White jokes about their first encounters. But Davis, also a singles skater, immediately took to dance, which meant having a partner and a hand to hold. "I hated skating by myself," says Davis. Having White on the ice with her helped calm the butterflies and make competing bearable, even enjoyable.

By then, Shpilband and Zoueva had made a virtue of having multiple top teams under their wing. "We never second-guessed the value of training with our competition," says Belbin, who shared ice time with her rivals during the 2000s. The lineups for training sessions looked like a world championship. The medalists for the 2011 Worlds, in fact, all trained in Canton: Davis and White (gold), Virtue and Moir (silver) and the Shibutanis (bronze).

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