White has no trouble making transition from hockey to ice dancing
BY NANCY YANG
Article Launched: 01/22/2008 10:01:00 PM PST
Charlie White is like the modern-day D.B. Sweeney of "The Cutting Edge": a talented hockey player turned skater turned ice champion (but without the bad attitude).
The former state champion hockey player from Royal Oak, Mich., left the sport behind to focus on ice dancing with partner Meryl Davis.
Davis and White begin their medal quest today in the ice dancing competition at the Xcel Energy Center, their sights on qualifying for the world championships in March.
Last year, the pair burst onto the senior ranks by winning the bronze medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships. That was on top of the junior national title they won in 2006 and subsequent third-place finish at junior worlds.
White, 20, has spent most of his life on the ice. He started skating at 3.
"My mom wanted to make sure that if I went skating with friends, that I wouldn't embarrass myself," he said. "I ended up liking it so much I stuck with it."
But White also knew he wanted to be a hockey player, so he enrolled in both activities and pulled double duty. By the time White was about 7, his skating coach realized that hockey was hurting him artistically. The coach suggested trying something new to help him stretch out and straighten up.
"I didn't have great posture (from playing hockey)," White admitted. "My coach wanted me to get into dance."
Shortly afterward, in 1997, White was asked to pair up with Davis, now 21, also born in Royal Oak, just to see how the two would work as a dance team.
"It was a little weird. I'd never done anything with a girl before," he said. "I was kind of embarrassed to have to dance with her, but it went well."
Davis, who had no dance experience, recalled her first impression of skating with White.
"He definitely considered himself the superior dancer of the two of us. He thought he was all special because he had danced before," Davis said before chuckling. "He was a little agitated that he had to move down a level for me."
CHOOSING ICE DANCING
But their partnership turned out to be a winning one:
-- During their 1997-98 season, they finished second at the Junior Olympics at the juvenile level.
-- The next year, they won the Junior Olympics on the intermediate level and won their regional and sectional championships.
-- In 2002 and 2004, they finished second at nationals in the novice and junior levels, respectively.
In the meantime, White kept up with hockey, even helping his team, the Detroit Skating Club Wolverines, win a state championship. White said some of his hockey buddies ribbed him for being a figure skater but that they eventually came around.
"I had really good skating skills," White said. "They started to come to respect it ... it helped them out."
By 2005, Davis and White were well on their way to winning a national title in the junior ranks when White's involvement in hockey intervened - he broke his ankle in a tournament in Canada. They ended up missing the national championships.
"We tried to use it as motivation," White said. "We said, 'We missed it this year, but let's go show them we've still got it.' The next year, we won juniors and got third at the junior world championships."
They also became the first dance team to receive all level fours for their elements, after they performed free dance at the 2006 NHK Trophy in Japan. A level four is the highest base value for a nonjump element in scoring and reflects an element's difficulty.
By the time the duo appeared at the 2007 championships in Spokane, Wash., White had decided to give up hockey to focus on ice dancing. It wasn't that he enjoyed one more than the other - he looked at several factors before he chose skating.
"I put a lot of work into (hockey). I got pretty good," White said. "But there's not quite enough time for both.
"I was a little bit more successful in ice dancing ... so I decided to devote everything to ice dancing and see where it took me."
Davis and White train in Canton, Mich., under Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, and alongside current dance champions Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto.
Zoueva, who has worked with her share of world and Olympic champions, said Davis and White could become the next great U.S. dance team because of their flair and teamwork. She pointed to the pair's seventh-place finish at the 2007 world championships - the highest debut for a U.S. dance team since 1980 - as proof of the team's talent.
"They are the smartest dance team I've ever worked with," she said. "They know absolutely what they want and what they are doing."
It helps that they grew up together - at 11 years, they have the longest partnership of any current U.S. dance team.
"I think having skated together for so long, our work ethic and way of skating and training have kind of evolved together," Davis said. "We haven't had a single fight in 11 years."
If they stay on track, they could be part of the U.S. Olympic team in 2010.
That would complete White's likeness to Sweeney's movie character: puck star becomes figure skating Olympian.
"That's definitely something we're looking forward to, staying for 2010," White said. "We're not in a hurry to get out."
But if he did?
"I'd be learning full time," he said, with ambitions to enter law school. "Barring playing in the NHL," he joked.
This was a background story video that was done by the local media station.
More from Robert Walker: CD, OD, FD
See all of their performances on M and C's icenetwork.com