By Sonia Oxley
VANCOUVER (Reuters) - North American ice dancers are beating Europeans at their own game thanks to the Russian coaches who are training them and changes to the scoring system which have played into their hands.
Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won Olympic gold on Monday and their American training partners Meryl Davis and Charlie White took silver, with both couples executing a similar brand of daring lifts which are richly rewarded by judges.
Anyone who did not already know that they shared the same coaches, former Soviet skaters Marina Zoueva and Igor Shpilband, would have wondered whether they did.
"The movement of a lot of really talented Russian coaches to the States has played a gigantic role," Davis told a news conference on Tuesday when asked what had driven North American success after 34 years of European ice dancing golds.
She added that the new open-ended scoring system, introduced after a controversy at the 2002 Games when a French judge admitted to being pressured to award more marks to a Russian couple in the pairs event, played to North American strengths.
"Looking back, North American teams were always a bit more technical and this new judging system rewards that. We're really grateful to be a part of this," Davis said.
After the collapse of the Soviet Union many coaches and ex-skaters moved abroad to make the most of the better salaries.
Zoueva and Shpilband divide their time equally between their charges, while the two teams have also drawn motivation from training together and becoming close friends.
"Scott is one of my best friends," said White, who said his slightly disheveled appearance was down to two hours' sleep snuggling up to his medal.
"We play a lot of NHL PlayStation 3 games against each other ... soon we're going to be lacing up the hockey skates and getting on the ice and playing some real hockey," he added.
This could be just the start of North American triumphs as the couples hope they have inspired a new generation.
"If we can generate more interest in Canada then we have done our jobs," Virtue told a news conference.
"We hope we have inspired some kids.... The sport has come a long way and we are definitely moving in the right direction."
(Additional reporting by Allan Dowd; Editing by Ed Osmond)