Meryl Davis and Charlie White took immediate command of the 2010 AT&T U.S. Figure Skating Championships last month by winning that event's compulsory dance, the Golden Waltz, over Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.
"We just drilled it and drilled it," Davis said. "We never worked that hard on a compulsory."
In Vancouver, they're hoping it's the Tango Romantica that keeps them in the hunt for gold.
"Their compulsories are always their lowest [scoring] event," Marina Zoueva, who coaches the team with Igor Shpilband in Canton, Mich., said. "That cannot happen at the Olympics. They cannot start from a lower place."
To all but the most rabid skating fans, compulsory dances (CDs) are a bit of a mystery.
Couples whirl around the ice, doing the same steps, in the same sequence, to the same tempo and similar music. Falls and big trips are rare; it's the nuances that make the difference.
Hoping to perfect those nuances, Davis and White and their training mates, reigning world bronze medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, spent the days leading up to Vancouver working with the Tango Romantica's creator, Elena Tchaikovskaya.
The coach, who lives in Moscow, choreographed the dance for her pupils, 1976 Olympic champions Ludmila Pakhomova and Alexander Gorshkov, in 1974.
"Our focus has been the Tango," White said at a press conference Saturday. "We worked with [Tchaikovskaya] for a few days, and we were really thrilled and excited."
"We left [Canton] feeling very confident. . . We worked a lot on the timing, making everything extra sharp, to make a point to the judges," he added. "Lots of little things here and there."
If the Americans and Canadians are to challenge for gold, they cannot afford to let Russians Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, or Isabelle Delobel and Olivier Schoenfelder of France, get too far ahead in the CD, which will be competed here on Feb. 19.
Winning the Tango Romantica led Domnina and Shabalin, the reigning world champions, to their second European title last month despite losing both the original dance and free dance. The French, who won worlds in 2008, are also known for their fine compulsories.
Zoueva and Shpilband invited Tchaikovskaya, who coached Zoueva in the 1970's, to visit Canton and work with their couples.
"When she gives you a tip on the style, you take her advice and you do it," Davis said.
Belbin and Agosto, who have not performed the Tango Romantica in several seasons, also have a compulsory dance expert at their disposal: their coach, 1980 Olympic champion Gennadi Karponossov, who trains the team with his wife and former partner, Natalia Linichuk, in Aston, Pa.
"We're working as hard as we can," Belbin said. "We feel completely prepared. We've been working a lot on the Tango since we did not have to compete it during our Grand Prix events."
Like Davis and White, compulsories have cost Belbin and Agosto in the past. In 2008, they were favored to win the world title, but Belbin fell in the Argentine Tango and they ended up off the podium.
Friday, the five-time U.S. champions were happy just to be in Vancouver.
"Hopefully we got the hardest part out of the way," Agosto said. "Philly got two feet of snow. We were booked on 12 different flights to get here. We spent the night in L.A. last night, but got here this morning."
Neither team has made any major changes to either their original dance or free dance since the U.S. Championships.
"No changes; we've just increased our training," Belbin said. "We've been working as hard as we can. We feel completely prepared."
U.S. bronze medalists Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates have also taken a steady-as-she-goes approach.
"No changes since nationals," Bates said. "We've just been doing repetitions. We're ready to go and excited to be here."