SOCHI, Russia - Charlie White threw his arms in the air in celebration to try to describe how he'd felt Sunday morning.
After four years, the moment had finally arrived for White and Meryl Davis, seeking to win the United States' first Olympic gold medal in ice dancing.
"I definitely woke up today ready," Davis said. "And yes, it's great to wake up with a smile on your face."
They were grinning even more broadly after their short dance, when they set an international personal best with 78.89 points to lead training partners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada by 2.56.
Davis and White won silver at the 2010 Games when Virtue and Moir became the first Olympic ice dance champions from North America. The free dance is Monday, and Davis and White, both from Michigan, are one performance away from gold.
"I told Charlie in the middle of the program I felt like I was in a dream," Davis said. "It is such a surreal experience."
Virtue and Moir rebounded from a shaky performance in the team event, but the Americans, skating last, have overtaken their rivals over the last four years, and it was no different Sunday.
A Russian team was in third, though it wasn't world bronze medalists Ekaterina Bobrova and Dmitri Soloviev. Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov were 3.29 points behind Virtue and Moir.
France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat were fourth, just 0.26 out of the bronze position, with Bobrova and Soloviev fifth.
Davis and White will again skate last Monday.
Their twizzles are at another speed from the rest of the field, and yet they spin across the ice in perfect unison. Skating to "My Fair Lady," they gaze at each other and into the crowd with an exuberant bliss.
"They fly," said their coach, Marina Zoueva, who also works with Virtue and Moir. "And you can see at the same time where they are strong. And they are so light at the same time and so flowing."
With White's tuxedo and tails and Davis' gauzy pink dress, they were decked out for a coronation.
"They really did the best this program can be done, with joy," Zoueva said. "Total joy."
When it was over, they held their embrace for a few extra seconds.
"We kept in the moment and neither of us was pushing it," White said. "We were out there enjoying each other's company. This was special for us."
The other American teams, Madison Chock and Evan Bates and siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, were eighth and ninth.
Virtue had a bobble on a twizzle during the team short dance, but on Sunday, she and Moir looked much more like the couple that charmed the home crowd in Vancouver four years ago. Their footwork again crisp, they seemed to bounce over the ice as they performed to jazz standards from Louis Armstrong and Ella Fitzgerald.
In his black bowtie and suspenders, Moir, ever the showman, smiled coyly from start to finish, eyebrow arched. Virtue's face beamed brighter than the sparkles on her flapper-style dress.
With the two still posed cheek to cheek just like the lyrics to the final song in their medley, Moir shouted out "Yes!" and pumped a fist. He whirled across the ice in celebration, then lifted Virtue into the air, burying his face in her shoulder.
"That was more like it," Moir said afterward.
The week between their programs seemed to drag on forever - Moir called the waiting miserable.
"I just wanted my chance to be on the stage and do that," he said.
So when the music ended, he let out all that tension, though Virtue teased him: "You left me."
"I didn't get the memo on that," she joked later of his extra little dance.
"I get a little emotional after we skate like that," he explained.
Both couples have been together since they were kids, and each talked about wanting to revel in the moment of these Olympics. That was accomplished Sunday.
"We've been together 17 years and that plays a huge part in just how comfortable you are on the ice in big moments," White said. "We have been through so much together in competitions and in life. It's just having that consistency in our training and our approach, and when it comes to big competitions, being a little bit nervous. You want to be able to count on that."
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