Michigan has a legacy on the Olympic Ice in Sochi. All three US Ice Dancing teams train in Metro Detroit. That’s because 2 of the top Olympic coaches, work out of rinks in Novi and Canton.
Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva are from Russia. But they’ve called Michigan home for decades. They’re masters of Ice Dance technique, and know what it takes to make champions in ice dance. Together, they helped Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir win that nation’s first Olympic Gold Medal in Ice Dance. Zoueva says she takes her decades of experience, and pours it into each of her students, every day. “My body, my brain, my heart, my knowledge, all for them." Shpilband says it’s a passionate commitment. “Obviously putting so much into them, every day, all my time, all my energy, all the passion."
Together, Shpilband and Zoueva have played a role in training every ice dancer on the US Olympic team. But 2 years ago, the coaches suddenly split. Zoueva stayed in Canton with Meryl Davis and Charlie White and Maia and Alex Shibutani. Shpilband and Madison Chock and Evan Bates went to train in Novi. Says Chock, “I feel a very strong connection with Igor, we work really well together." Bates says the facilities are also a draw. “Novi has given us everything that we need as far as resources go for lead athletes."
While the facilities are a bonus, it’s the top notch coaching that has ice dancers from around the world flocking to Metropolitan Detroit. Isabella Tobias is a US Citizen, but will represent Lithuania at the Olympics. She’s one of several ice dancers that have moved to Michigan to train with Shpilband. “Nobody will push you harder than Igor Shpilband. He makes you work harder than you think you can work. He pushes you past your limits, and I think that's really why he makes champions. He makes you realize potential that you didn't know that you had."
Shpilband says the sport of Ice Dance has become more physical over the past ten years, with many teams performing complicated lifts. He says ice dance is unique because it combines art with athletics. “One have to be combined with another, that's what makes the ice dance, you can't be just athletic and have no judge of art, and at the same time you cannot just focus on the artistry and forget about skating skills because its still a sport." Says Zoueva, “It's process, right? We build at everything, we build the athletic side of them, the technique of skating, general technique, special ice dance technique, and the other side, the art.”
Zoueva is in Sochi with teams she knows very well. She’s coached Charlie White and Meryl Davis for 12 of their 17 years together. She’s coached Alex and Maia Shibutani for 7 years. Maia Shibutani says Zoueva recognizes unique talents of ice dancers, and coaches to them. “What our coach Marina Zoueva does so well is find what we're all strong at individually, so that's why you really see us doing different programs from Meryl and Charlie this year. Alex Shibutani agrees, “She really highlights what the strength is of the team."
This year, the entire USA Ice Dance team is made in Michigan. Charlie White says Detroit’s working-class attitude is paying off. “Everyone works really hard here and I think it's rubbed off on all of us and I think we're going to take that attitude to the Olympics."
An elite mixture of attitude, history and heart. Three ice dancing teams, with two top notch coaches have brought the spirit of the Motor City to Sochi. Says Shpilband, “It's just it's a joy to work with them...just a joy."