Local article by The Oakland Press

Meryl Davis, Charlie White continue Oakland County's legacy at Olympics

Friday, January 29, 2010

By PAT CAPUTO Of The Oakland Press


The difference between the Olympic Games and other sporting ventures is sheer drama.

Not the kind Hollywood makes up in a goofy script.

The real type that can’t be simulated.

The Olympics are not necessarily a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but they can be. Often they boil down to a few minutes — or even a precious few seconds. Participants not only have to be spectacular to claim Olympic gold, but virtually mistake-free under intense glare.

And the Olympics are not just about individuals or teams competing, but also representing their respective countries. How often have we seen even our most hardened athletes weep as “The Star Spangled Banner” played? Sometimes, it’s been difficult to not cry along with them.

That’s most Olympics. Such feelings become even more extreme when somebody from Oakland County is involved.

Not just those who trained here, but those who were raised here. Attended our schools. Lived in our neighborhoods.

The kids next door. Or across the street. Or from the next block.

Hasn’t happened that often when the result is Olympic gold. But it could next month when Meryl Davis and Charlie White, an ice dancing team, compete in Vancouver.

They are the two-time defending U.S. national champions, having beaten Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto — the 2006 Olympic silver medalists and their former training partners — for the first time last weekend at the U.S. Championships in Spokane, Wash.

Davis was raised in West Bloomfield, White in Bloomfield Hills. Both were born in Royal Oak. Each is a student at the University of Michigan. They train in Canton, but have trained much of their careers in Oakland County.

Ice dance is not a sport in which the U.S. has traditionally excelled during the Olympic Games. The silver medal by Belbin and Agosto was just the second time the U.S. medaled in the sport, the first since its Olympic debut in 1976. No American ice dance team has ever won an Olympic gold medal. Davis and White are going for history. But they have a good chance, having performed well recently at the international level.

And they are Oakland County’s own. Figure skating in this county has a long tradition of stars who have come here to train, primarily at the Detroit Skating Club in Bloomfield Township or Onyx in Rochester, but this is different.

Belbin was born in Canada and Agosto is from Chicago.

Tara Lipinski, who captured the women’s gold medal in the 1998 in Nagano, trained at the Detroit Skate Club, but she was born and raised near Philadelphia. Todd Eldredge, several times the U.S. men’s champion, also trained in this area, but he is from Massachusetts.

Nicole Bobek and Alissa Czisny are among other past U.S. women’s champions who trained here, but are from other parts of the country.

Davis and White are about as local as it gets. And it’s not unlike past stories that have kept us on the edge our seats during the Olympics.

Like when swimmer Peter Vanderkaay from Rochester Hills brought back gold medals from the 2004 and 2008 Olympic games as a teammate of Michael Phelps on relays, as well as bronze individually.

We remember seeing Hazel Park’s Steve Fraser winning gold in Greco-Roman wrestling at the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles.

There was never more high drama when Micki King, who learned to swim at the YMCA in Downtown Pontiac, broke her wrist on her ninth dive in the 1968 Olympics, knocking her off the medal podium. Heartbreak became utter joy when, four years later, King won the gold medal.

Like King, Hayes Jones attended Pontiac Central. In 1964, during what was golden era of track and field in this country, he won the 110-meter hurdles at the Tokyo games.

They were all special stories, inspiring in their own way.

For Davis and White, it’s a unique togetherness. They have been a team for 13 years, since they were little kids, and there was a time when it didn’t seem possible they could come this far. But unlike other ice dance couples, who tend to change partners at the first sign of adversity, they have persevered.

Sure. Everybody around here will be watching especially close when they take the ice in Vancouver next month.

Our hearts will be racing. Our fingers will be crossed.

It’ll be another great Oakland County Olympic moment. They don’t happen that often, you know.

Guess that’s what makes them especially sweet when they do.

Pat Caputo is a senior sports reporter and a columnist for The Oakland Press. Contact him at pat.caputo@oakpress.com and read his blog at theoaklandpress.com.

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