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By Julian Linden
SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - Marina Zoueva faced the ultimate test of her loyalties at the Winter Olympics on Monday as, in a bitter-sweet twist for ice dancing's supreme coach, she found her allegiances torn three ways.
Born and raised in Russia, the spiritual heart and soul of ice dancing, a part of Zoueva wanted the host nation to win, but she had also been working tirelessly trying to get the United States or Canada to top the podium.
As the long-time coach of the American pairing of Meryl Davis and Charlie White and the Canadian duo of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, it is a scenario that Zoueva has long had to live with.
Four years ago, at the Vancouver Olympics, she coached the gold and silver medallists - with Virtue and Moir winning on home ice and Davis and White coming second.
On Monday, Zoueva did it again, but this time the placings were reversed with the Americans triumphing ahead of the Canadians.
To top it all off, the Russian pair of Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov finished third, giving her a part in all three medallists.
"It was important for me to do a special program for my mother land country," Zoueva said.
"I chose a Russian story for each program. I wanted to touch the heart of the people."
After the flower presentation, the winners and runners-up ushered Zoueva to join them on the Iceberg Skating Palace rink.
She embraced them all one by one then stood in the middle to pose for photographers as the crowd applauded. Then she grabbed two flags, one American and one Canadian, and symbolically held them together as her star pupils traded their own hugs and kisses.
"Marina really just does an incredible job," Davis said after the short program. "I think the two teams have very different styles, very different strengths and very different approaches to skating in general.
"We are just grateful that certainly while there are complexities that arise, she just does such a wonderful job with putting us all exactly where we feel we need to be."
Before she became a master coach and choreographer, Zoueva was on the mighty Soviet Union team as an ice dancer herself.
She never made it to the Olympics and her best finish at the world championships was fifth but what she may have lacked in athleticism she has more than made up for with her vision and imagination.
Zoueva left Russia in the early 1990s to live and train in North America and she currently runs an elite academy in Michigan.
Davis and White and Tessa and Moir have been working under her guidance for over a decade but have completely different routines and styles, each as spellbinding as the other.
Zoueva does not play favorites though and while it is an unusual arrangement it is one that has worked well, with both pairs now having won world and Olympic titles.
On the ice, the duos are intense competitors but away from it they are all friends, having spent so much time together over the past decade.
"It has been a fierce rivalry between the four of us and now I think the pressures of this game are kind of just melting away," Scott said.
(Editing by Mitch Phillips)