SOCHI, Russia — Seventeen years.
Seventeen years of skating together, learning together, growing up together.
Seventeen years since an 8-year-old and a 9-year-old were thrown together as an ice dance team, a pairing that irritated the younger member, Charlie White. He had been doing it for six months, and Meryl Davis was just starting, so he was back to dance square one while she caught up — quickly.
Seventeen years during which Davis said there never was doubt about whether they should stick it out.
Seventeen years leading to a free dance so physically and mentally demanding, it left them looking as if they had spent 17 years of energy on the four minutes of skating, unable to do anything but collapse into each other's arms when it was over Monday at the Iceberg Skating Palace.
Seventeen years for a moment, the moment when the scores were announced and two kids from Michigan realized all that work and time with each other had made them the first U.S. skating couple to win an Olympic gold medal, in dance or pairs.
"You dream of the opportunity, and being able to put in the work every day to make it happen is a tribute to our partnership," White, 26, said.
"The closest we came to breaking up, I can't pinpoint one because there hasn't been one," Davis, 27, said. "Certainly there have been struggles. It hasn't been easy to get where we are. … Charlie and I are very different. We used those difference to balance it out. There has never been a moment of doubt."
Such relentless effort was needed for Davis and White to beat the 2010 Olympic champions, Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who have become not only fierce rivals but friends during the decade they have trained together under the same coaches in Canton, Mich.
"The struggles, the rivalry, knowing if you're not perfect, then you can forget about your dreams, with that constant striving for perfection, you have to look in the mirror and figure out every day what it is going to take to get there," White said. "You mature a lot quicker under that kind of pressure."
Virtue and Moir had been the first North American ice dancers to win gold. Both couples had become so good they lost only to the other in the four years beginning with the 2010 Olympics, when Davis and White were the silver medalists.
But Davis and White have separated themselves from the Canadians in the judges' eyes. Skating the free dance to music from the ballet Scheherazade, the U.S. couple continued a dominance over Moir and Virtue that has reached six competitions. The Americans won the short and free dances with season-best scores — their short program score set a world points record — and their total of 195.52 beat Virtue and Moir by 4.53 points.
"No athlete likes to sit in this position," Moir said, referring to second place, "but it is easier when you know how hard these guys worked."
The next great dance team clearly is going to be Russians Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katasalapov, who took third with the most compelling free dance of the night with their interpretation of Swan Lake.
The intensity of the Scheherazade sections coach Marina Zoueva chose for Davis and White suited perfectly the power and athleticism that have come to define their skating.
Virtue and Moir's free-dance music was an unfortunate mashup of Russian classical pieces. No matter that they skated exceptionally well; a sense of fragmentation prevailed.
Davis and White skated last. When their program ended with White on a knee, Davis rested her head on his back in exhausted elation. They performed just as they had visualized it.
"That in itself justified 17 years of hard work," White said.
Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.