World champion ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White lifted U.S. figure skaters to team bronze with a first-place finish at the Sochi Olympics last week and Monday will finish their drive for individual gold when they skate to "Scheherazade" in the ice-dancing free skate.
When they do, Michael Seibert will be watching.
Flash back 30 years, and it was Mr. Seibert and partner Judy Blumberg skating to the same Rimsky-Korsakov composition, with an Olympic medal seemingly in their grasp. Their marks for technical merit at the Sarajevo Games put them in medal position, but they dropped just out of contention, into fourth place, when the Italian judge gave them a 5.5 for interpretation because she deemed the choice of "Scheherazade" inappropriate for the sport.
Mr. Seibert, who grew up in Shaler and Washington, Pa., left the disappointment of that day and amateur skating behind long ago. He turned to choreography and directing, earning an Emmy Award and three nominations for work on programs such as "Stars on Ice" and "The Ice Princess," with Katarina Witt. Most recently, he has been the creative director for Canadian Broadcasting Corp.'s "Battle of the Blades," a "Dancing With the Stars"-style show featuring former hockey players paired with figure-skating pros.
He discovered Ms. Davis and Mr. White's choice of music while watching a CBC program about their rivals, the Canadian ice-dancing team Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, and began following the sport again after years of avoiding it.
"I was so happy when I saw them at Nationals, so enthusiastic," Mr. Seibert, 54, said by phone from upstate New York in the midst of moving after several years on the West Coast. "Had I not liked what I saw, it could have been nostalgic, and not in a good way. But it was so great, and now I look forward to watching the Olympics."
The Davis-White team won a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games and have eclipsed Seibert-Blumberg's five U.S. Figure Skating Championships by winning an unprecedented six.
Still, the Seibert-Blumberg team was inducted into the U.S. Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 1996. He left the Pittsburgh area as a 13-year-old to travel with his mother in search of top coaching and, eventually, the right partner. He met the Californian Ms. Blumberg when both were at a Hartford competition, and it was another 11/2 years before they began their journey as partners. She has been a broadcaster, a motivational speaker and an ensemble director for the Ice Theatre of New York, and is a teaching pro at the Sun Valley Skating School.
The two were World Professional Ice Dance Champions in 1988 and won the World Cup Ice Dance Championship in '88 and '89. By that time, Mr. Seibert, three years older than Ms. Blumberg, was ready to give up skating and pursue other paths in choreography and directing while his partner wanted to continue, which led to a rough parting.
"We haven't been in touch for years," he said. "The breakup wasn't great because I quit early to choreograph and direct, and that meant she wasn't able to work as long as she liked."
Mr. Seibert mostly called New York his home since he left skating, but when he was competing, he was identified as being from Washington, Pa., which appeared on TV screens when he skated in Sarajevo. He has no family left here but remains close to Claire Dillie, the skating teacher from Washington who helped launch his career.
In recent years, his time as creative director and choreographer for "Battle of the Blades" reunited him with co-creator and executive producer Sandra Bezic, with whom he won an Emmy as collaborators for "Stars on Ice." The latest experience around a rink has given him a little insight into unknown territory: hockey. The former players learn quickly that lifting a relatively tiny female skater and other figure-skating moves can be as dangerous as a flying puck. Valeri Bure, for example, had to have shoulder surgery after the show he won with Ekaterina Gordeeva
"For me, coming from figure skating, these [hockey players] are gladiators -- they're huge! -- you just don't meet guys built like that and have the coordination to do what they do. There's a Pittsburgh connection in that I worked with Stephane Richer [a former Penguin]. ... They're way out of their comfort zone with figure skating."
Mr. Seibert was awaiting word on whether the show would be picked up for a fifth season by the CBC while the Sochi Olympics were getting into full swing.
Despite his own disappointment, he's happy for the current U.S. ice dancers' success.
"I love it because it means we were just 30 years too early."
Sharon Eberson; firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-1960.