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Dancing their way to Sochi

BOSTON (AP) — Meryl Davis and Charlie White stepped onto a riser in the mixed zone Wednesday and noted how high up they were.

Someone suggested they consider it a medals podium. Good idea. Not that the ice dancers are unfamiliar with such lofty territory. Five-time U.S. gold medalists, twice world champions, silver medalists at the 2010 Vancouver Games, they are the most accomplished couple in American figure skating history. Skating off with another national title this week seems a mere formality for "Marlie."

The bigger prize is out there in February: Olympic gold. Yet they say concentrating on the U.S. Championships that start Thursday — Davis and White begin competition Friday with the short dance — is easy.

"We've been really good at it, keeping in the moment," White said. "Whether it's day-to-day practices here, practices at home, we're not worried about the Olympics. We are taking each part of nationals like that. Getting better at each step will help us with competitions in the future."

White added a smile after saying that, fully aware the next event for them will be at Sochi. "The last four years as a team, each year we've been making it build with each competition," White added. "Making everything we do the best we can be, getting to the cusp of greatness."

Some would say they have reached greatness, at least for American ice dancers, whose international record through the years was, to be kind, abysmal. But an Olympics breakthrough was made by Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto in 2006 with a silver medal, and they also grabbed two silvers and two bronzes at the world championships.

Davis and White have done them two better with their world titles in 2011 and 2013. The natural next honor would be Olympic gold. To get that, they will have to beat their friends and training partners in Michigan, Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the Vancouver champions.

But first, they seek their sixth U.S. crown, something no American ice dancers have achieved. "We never see a ceiling for ourselves," Davis said. "And we never say we're really good now. We strive for endless growth in our performance levels. We never feel satisfied with ourselves."

Having Virtue and Moir training in the same rink certainly eliminates any complacency. It's a rivalry that has worked for both sides, and it promises to be one of the spotlight events in Russia. All four skaters recognize the difference between gold and silver will be minute at Sochi. So Davis and White keep pushing to find that extra special touch.

White suggests it may be putting more charisma in their performances. Of course, charisma is difficult to define with words. It just sort of, well, emanates from the ice to the crowd — and hopefully to the judges.

"I think it comes from an understanding of characters and the relationship with the music," he said. "We've done a good job of blending the technical aspect of the performances and we felt the way to top the program off more is to really have fun with it. Sometimes, it's just going out and enjoying the performance."

While there wasn't much to get excited about in Wednesday's practice for Davis and White, one of their main pursuers fell. Madison Chock, who with partner Evan Bates finished second at last year's nationals, stayed down on the ice for a few moments before he helped her up.

Soon after, they were back into their warm-up and then their run-through.

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