Red, White, Maize & Blue: U-M Students Go for Gold in Vancouver

Meryl Davis and Charlie White
Meryl Davis and Charlie White

Jan. 25, 2010

By Joanne C. Gerstner

Officially, ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White represent the United States in big competitions such as the World Championships or the upcoming 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics (Feb. 12-28).

But they're actually Wolverines being a bit undercover. White and Davis, both native Metro Detroiters, are University of Michigan students and die-hard Wolverine sports fans.

They're about to become very famous, as they head into the Olympics as the No. 1-ranked ice dancers in the world. White, a sophomore who has not chosen a major yet, and Davis, a junior in cultural anthropology, could become the most famous Michigan students in the Olympics since star swimmer Michael Phelps.

After clinching an Olympic berth by winning the U.S. National Championships in Spokane, Wash., they are now the two-time defending U.S. champions, and have received a lot of TV airtime in the run up to the 2010 Olympics. White and Davis have been skating at their best this season, and hope to peak in Vancouver.

They have a slew of skating fans, and could become household names like Phelps if they win gold at the Olympics.

"We love being here at Michigan, it's been great," said White, who like Davis, lives on campus. "I've always been a crazy, huge, big U-M fan. HUGE. I love football, basketball, hockey, all of it. There was nowhere else I really wanted to go to school but here."

Meryl Davis and Charlie White

The pair trains in Canton at the Arctic Edge Arena. They've been skating together since 1997, winning titles at every level along the way. They're close friends, like a cool brother-and-sister pair, able to be supportive and also sarcastic at the same time with each other.

They've been taking around two classes per semester, a load that's manageable with a skating career that takes them around the world. Check out their frequent flier miles from the past few months: a trip to Tokyo, Japan, for the ISU Grand Prix; before that, two trips to Russia and one to Germany for competitions; and to start the season, a long-distance haul to Nagano, Japan.

They're taking a pause from their studies this semester, with good reason. They had the U.S. Championships in January, the Olympics in February, and the World Championships in March. In other words: Spokane, Vancouver, then Turin, Italy. It's too hard to impress finicky skating judges and professors at the same time.

Ice dance is a special form of figure skating, combining athletic moves with the grace of Gene Kelly's dancing. There are no jumps, such as the axels seen in singles or pairs skating. Ice dance has lifts, quick moving spins (called "twizzles"), intricate footwork, and complex choreography to help tell the story of the music. White and Davis are performing to Indian folk music in their original dance (also called the short program), and selections from "Phantom of the Opera" in their free skate.

White and Davis have a few factors that set them apart as the world's best right now:

» They perform very close together, which raises the difficulty level and produces a strong visual line. One mistake could bring both of them down to the ice.
» Their lifts are complex and unique, adding excitement and more than a bit of danger to the moves.
» They skate very quickly and powerfully, again making their complicated footwork even more intricate to pull off.

"We've been working really hard to make ourselves be the best this season," Davis, 23, said. "We really didn't need to improve on any one thing in particular. We put in a lot of hard work coming into this to make it the best we could, and it's paid off pretty well so far. We couldn't ask for a better season so far, but there is a long way to go."

White and Davis have won all of their competitions this season, heading into the Olympic Games.

Despite their hectic lives, White and Davis have managed to find some normalcy as students. They walk around campus unnoticed -- something that would never happen if they were in an ice rink. Davis joined Michigan's Iota chapter of the Delta Delta Delta sorority and has season tickets for football. White hangs out with friends, goes to social events, and relishes his time being an average guy.

Meryl and her sorority sisters on bid day.

"It's all worked out really well for us, school is a place for us to be ourselves," Davis, who hails from West Bloomfield, said. "It's a good thing for us to have that balance in our lives. We're not all just about skating and that world. We can come here, study, be around our friends, and be part of what Michigan has to offer. It's really helped us stay grounded."

White, 22, has been frequently spotted wearing his signature block "M" hat when off the ice, has Michigan floor mats in his car, and even showed off a U-M sweatshirt on national TV moments before they officially won the 2009 U.S. title. He grew up a Wolverines fan, watching football games on TV every Saturday with his U-M alumnus dad.

Charlie and his U-M housemates, including Evan Bates (top right).

"They were so cute when Charlie was small," White's mom, Jackie, said. "He'd put on his Michigan jersey and sit with his dad to see the game. It was their tradition, so I'm not surprised he's at Michigan now. That's all he wanted was to go to Michigan."

White and Davis count themselves as true-blue Americans, but if given the chance, will also scream "Go Blue!"
The best scenario for White would be to win the gold medal in Vancouver, hear the National Anthem played, and then sneak on his U-M hat for the pictures.

"That would be the most amazing thing ever," said White, a native of Bloomfield Hills. "Winning a gold for the U.S. and being able to give Michigan a shout-out too. U-M isn't known for ice dancing, but I think we can change that."

NOTE: In a surprise finish at the U.S. National Championships Saturday afternoon (Jan. 23), another pair of University of Michigan students earned the third and final spot on the U.S. ice dancing Olympic team. With their third-place finish at nationals, Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates will be joining Davis and White, along with Tanith Belbin and Ben Agosto, in Vancouver.


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