SAN JOSE, Calif. -- Meryl Davis and Charlie White are on a different level than their American competitors.
Heck, they're lapping the rest of the world, too.
The first Americans to win a world title in ice dance took a comfortable lead at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships on Friday, and their score of 76.89 in the short dance is sure to get the world's attention. Not only was it four-plus points ahead of Maia and Alex Shibutani, last year's U.S. runners-up and the surprise bronze medallists at the world championships, but it's well ahead of what the best of the rest has been able to do, too.
Canadian Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the closest thing Davis and White have to competition these days, scored 68.41 at the Canadian championships earlier this month -- though that was with a major error. The top teams at this week's European championships struggled just to crack 65 points.
"It's nationals right? Judges all prefer to get positive things, and Meryl and Charlie gave them a chance to do that," said Marina Zoueva, one of Davis and White's coaches. "They skated great, technically and emotionally."
The free dance is Saturday. The men's short program is later Friday.
Davis and White have been unbeatable since finishing second to Virtue of London, Ont., and Moir of Ilderton, Ont., at the 2010 world championships. In addition to their historic title last spring, they edged the Canadians again last month in the Grand Prix finals.
And as talented as the Shibutanis are, they're no match for Davis and White. At least, not yet.
Though every team skates to the same type of music in the short dance -- Latin is this year's choice -- Davis and White don't look close to anyone else. Their program was so intoxicating you were afraid to take your eyes off of them for fear you'd miss something original and unusual. Their edge quality was simply superb, and their speed would put Usain Bolt to shame.
But it's their presence that is truly captivating. Davis and White wear the title of champions easily, oozing confidence and self-assuredness.
Oh, and here's the really scary part: Davis and White can do even better, having very slight unison issues.
The Shibutanis overhauled their short dance after last month's Grand Prix finals, getting help once again from "Dancing with the Stars" pro Corky Ballas, who won five professional Latin dance championships from 1986-90.
"The program flows much better than the previous one," Alex Shibutani said. "And it's a lot more fun to skate."
Traditional ballroom dances like the waltz and quickstep have always been the Shibutanis' strength -- no surprise considering their parents are former classical musicians. But the siblings have embraced the challenge of the Latin rhythm, spending a week in "boot camp" with Ballas last spring and putting in six- to eight-hour days to come up with their new dance last month.
The hard work paid off. Though they did the same samba pattern as everyone else -- it's a requirement -- theirs looked smoother, with deep, clean edges and effortless transitions.
As always, the highlight of their program were their side-by-side twizzles -- travelling spins. It's dizzying enough to watch twizzles, let alone do them, but the Shibutanis have turned them into an art form. They spun so fast they were a blur, yet they maintained perfect balance over their skates and were as synchronized as perfectly as a Swiss watch.
"Latin has been a challenge for everyone, but it's definitely a challenge we've embraced," Maia Shibutani said. "The steps are a lot more challenging (in the new program), but we're really enjoying doing it."
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue were a distant third.