Australian ice dancers live dream after heart scare
Australia's Danielle O'Brien and Gregory Merriman perform in the ice dance short dance competition at the ISU Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Taipei on February 17, 2011 - by Sam Yeh
The road to the Sochi Games has been a rocky one for the pair from Sydney who now train in the United States.
They had been poised to make their Olympic debut four years ago when Merriman was struck down with a serious heart condition.
They were at the Olympic qualifiers when the 25-year-old felt a pain in his chest.
He was soon diagnosed with pericarditis, a viral infection in the sac surrounding the heart.
Any vigorous exercise could prove life threatening.
It meant the end of their Vancouver dream, but they decided to start once again to try to qualify for Sochi.
They moved to Detroit in 2011 and began the long battle to make the Olympics again and on Sunday advanced past the short dance to Monday's free dance final in the Iceberg Skating Palace.
"We've made it," said a jubilant Merriman, after their skate to "Cotton Club Stomp" and "The Moocher" to snatch the 20th and final qualifying spot in the 24-skater field.
The most decorated ice dancers in Australian history, they have won seven national titles, and have competed in five world championships.
"I said to Greg as we started we've been waiting four years to do this, we might as well just have fun and enjoy it because if there's no second Olympics, but who cares it's our first," said 24-year-old O'Brien.
"We said 'let's have fun today, let's not wait until tomorrow just in case there's no tomorrow'. We had fun today so it's going to be so much fun tomorrow."
World champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White set a world record score of 78.89 points to lead Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada by 2.56 going into Monday's free dance final.
The Australian pair qualified with a personal best 52.68
"2010 has been in the back of our minds for a long time now," said Merriman.
"When we made the decision to move overseas Vancouver was put to the back of our minds.
"It was a fresh start and we were driving towards here and meeting the goals which we've done now. It shows people how much work we've done now."
Both their families were cheering for them in the Iceberg Skating Palace.
O'Brien's mother has not seen her compete since juniors, while it was the first time Merriman's mother had seen him in competition.
"To finally have her here and lay down a good programme for her meant a lot," he said.
The move to Detroit improved their level and helped them to learn to adjust to the big occasion, bright lights and big crowd.
"I spotted a few people in the crowd and I think that was important to make the connection because we've struggled to do that in the last few years," said Merriman
"Now we're official Olympians because we've finished our first performance. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity."
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