LONDON, Ontario (AP) — There are some programs skaters forget as soon as the season is over. There are some they'll remember with fondness, maybe even cherish.
And then there are those so special they will continue to bring chills for years to come.
"Those," Meryl Davis said, "are the programs we strive for."
She and Charlie White have another to add to their list. Kim Yu-na might, too.
While Davis and White took a big step toward their second title at the World Figure Skating Championships with a short dance that was as exquisite as it was entertaining, Kim showed that she remains the one to beat, even after two years away.
Davis and White upstaged Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir on Thursday night — in the Canadians' backyard, no less — and their record performance gives them a 3.25 lead going into Saturday's free dance. Kim's victory in the short program was well off the record she set in Vancouver, but she, too, has a lead of three-plus points over defending world champion Carolina Kostner and Kanako Murakami of Japan.
"Because I've skated for so long in the past, the skating itself is not that much different," Kim said through a translator. "However, how I think of skating in general, how I feel before a competition and how I worry about a competition is definitely different because I don't feel the pressure as much. After winning the Olympics, I felt I had accomplished it all. I had accomplished my dream."
"Now I don't focus on the results only," she added. "I really do enjoy skating itself."
Their free dance at the 2009 world championships was the first program to give Davis and White that "tingle." The work and effort they'd been putting in for months was suddenly transformed into pure joy, and they could see the euphoria they felt when they came off the ice reflected in the audience.
"It was a feeling we'd never really realized before," Davis said. "But certainly we've been chasing it ever since."
That their rivalry with Virtue and Moir took off right about then is no coincidence. Training partners and good friends, the Americans and Canadians have been trading titles since Vancouver. Virtue-Moir took the Olympic gold along with the world titles in 2010 and 2012. Davis and White won the 2011 world title — the first for a U.S. dance team — and have had a stranglehold on the Grand Prix Final title.
But the Americans have taken the quality of their skating up another notch this year, and the Canadians haven't kept pace.
"We feel different than we felt two years ago. In a good way," White said. "Our confidence is as high as it's ever been."
Every second of Davis and White's program was filled with a special touch. When they began their polka, they did a series of cute hops that had fans tapping their own feet. But it was their unison that made the program sparkle.
They were as synchronized as a Swiss watch, every moment done in perfect harmony. Their twizzles — traveling spins — were so spot on, it was as if they were linked with an invisible cord. And when they did their no-touch circular step sequence, you could swear you were seeing shadows.
"It was one of those dream skates," White said.
It would have been tough for the Canadians to top, anyway, but they lost whatever chance they had when Virtue lurched to the side during their twizzles. They were nearly a half-turn apart at one point, an error so obvious even the dozens of family and friends visible throughout the arena in their bright yellow T-shirts had to have winced.
"We find ourselves in a bit of a hole," Moir said. "But the competition isn't over yet."
It isn't in the women's event, either, though it sure felt like it.
Comebacks in figure skating are notoriously harsh, and not even an Olympic gold medal can protect against gravity, injuries and the pace of progress. For every Evgeni Plushenko or Gordeeva and Grinkov, there are dozens more failures.
"It's really hard to prepare your physical and mental status," Kim acknowledged. "It wasn't an easy to decision to make, but I made it and now I'm just focused to be back."
What makes Kim so special is how smooth and effortless she makes everything look. Triple-triple jump combinations take so much strength and effort that you know when most women are going to do them because the lead-in is so lengthy.
For Kim, her triple lutz-triple toe combo was simply another element, done as easily as another step or turn. She had an edge call on her triple flip, a minor flaw, but the jump itself was gorgeous as she floated in the air for the briefest of moments before starting to turn.
Even her landings were gorgeous. Rather than scratching the ice, she glided along like a pebble skipped across the water.
But just as it was in the old days, it was Kim's presentation that was particularly exquisite. She doesn't simply feel music, it's part of her soul. She acknowledged each nuance of music with every inch of her body: a soft tilt of her head, a brush of her fingertips and, of course, that penetrating gaze.
"Everything. Does that sound too broad?" American Gracie Gold said when asked what she admired most about her idol's skating.
"Her smoothness. ... That confidence. It just looks like she trusts herself so much, which is a lot (easier) said than done."
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