FIGURE SKATING: In front of a packed crowd at the Iceberg Skating Palace, Danielle O’Brien and Greg Merriman have given a strong and entertaining free program.
Coming into the Sochi Games, the pair from Sydney had set themselves the goal of making the free program. After achieving that last night, the new goal was set – to have fun.
Performing a routine with choreography and music inspired by the circus, the pair exuded playfulness and enthusiasm from the moment they stepped onto the ice.
“We definitely had fun,” O’Brien said with her trademark dazzling smile. “I think I was having so much fun that I didn’t notice that my legs hurt until I had finished. So that made it a lot easier.”
O’Brien and Merriman were the fifth couple to skate, taking to the ice after Victoria Sinitsina and Ruslan Zhiganshin of Russia who had the crowd roaring.
“It was such a buzz skating after the Russian team,” O’Brien said. “I kept thinking they were chanting ‘Danielle’ not ‘Russia’. We didn’t have enough Aussies in the stands to take over the chant so we just caught onto the Russian one.
“It was one of those moments – you rarely get to skate in an arena where people are going so crazy. It was so exciting.”
The Aussies delivered a solid program, with some small deductions for errors in their synchronised twizzle and circular step sequence.
“There were a few mistakes,” Merriman conceded. “I know I dropped at least one level on the twizzles. The steps may have been a bit rough but it was pretty clean technically. We had a little bit of speed off today but I think that’s from the late night and early practice.”
“I was yawning all through the four skaters before us,” O’Brien added, agreeing that the pair had struggled with being tired after last night’s short program.
“Now I’m thankful the lights are so bright because it kept me awake! But as soon as you step out onto that ice, as soon as you step out into the arena you don’t feel tired anymore.”
To the crowd, the pair certainly looked anything but tired, delivering their performance with the energy and emotion that it deserved.
“This is our second year of this program,” Merriman said. “So we know it like the back of our hand. It requires so much energy and theatrics. It looks like the energy drops if we are not theatrical in it so even in practice we do our best to smile. It’s almost our pain reflex now – ‘turn that frown upside down!’”
“Coaches often say - don’t make your smile so fake, but there was no way to fake a smile out there tonight because it was just so fun," O'Brien added.
Their free dance score of 75.85 brought O’Brien and Merriman to a total of 128.53. Although the score is unlikely to see them climb above their short program ranking of 20th, they wrap up their Olympic experience thrilled to have met all their own expectations and had fun along the way.
At 24 and 25 respectively, O’Brien and Merriman are now faced with the decision about their future in the sport.
“We will be going to Worlds and from there we are not really sure what we are going to do,” Merriman said. “Four years would be a really long time, I’ll be almost 30 by then, so it will be a big decision. Australia is home and I want to be at home in the long run. So it’s just a matter of deciding financially and physically what we want to do.”
The defending Olympic Champions, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, were sitting in second place after the short program. The pair skated a near flawless program to a medley of classical music to score a new season’s best of 114.66 to bring them to a total of 190.99.
Russia had two couples in the final group and at the end of Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov’s performance there were no fewer than 50 bunches of flowers rocketed onto the rink. The standing ovation carried right through from the end of their skate to the results which saw them all but guarantee them a medal on 183.48.
The final couple to take to the arena were Vancouver silver medallists Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the USA. Leading after the short, Davis and White were mesmerising, earning 116.63 for a total of 195.52 and the gold medal.
Their friends and training partners, Virtue and Moir, took the silver medal and the hometown favourites Ilinykh and Katsalapov took the bronze.