For Olympians Davis and White, It’s Red, White, (Maize) and Blue

Amy Rosewater October 18, 2010


Photo: Valerio Pennicino

Meryl Davis and Charlie White of USA participate in the Gala Exhibition during the 2010 ISU World Figure Skating Championships on March 28, 2010 in Turin, Italy

It has been almost eight months since Meryl Davis and Charlie White earned silver medals at the Vancouver 2010 Olympic Winter Games. But for the American ice dancers, it has seemed almost like another lifetime.

After touring through about 40 cities nationwide, filming TV skating specials, swinging by the White House and being honored on the football field at the University of Michigan, where both skaters are students, Davis and White are about to take the ice once again — only this time it won’t be for a show. It will be for a competition and it will mark the beginning of a new Olympic cycle.

Davis and White will be competing this weekend in the NHK Trophy, the first stop of the International Skating Union’s Grand Prix circuit and their first competition since placing second at the World Championships in March.

In some ways, they are like youngsters going back to school, returning to the familiarity of training at their home rink inCanton, Mich., and competing in front of judges. Only for Davis and White, they have had quite a story to tell about what they did over summer “vacation.’’

Will it feel good to get back to a sense of normalcy?

“I don’t think we will ever back to normalcy,’’ said Davis, when reached earlier this month during a rehearsal break for the Progressive Skating & Gymnastics Spectacular, which will air on NBC Jan. 9.

But it’s not as if she and White are complaining.

“The Olympics were a life-changing experience for us,’’ Davis said. “We’ve grown a lot since then and we’ve been having a blast.’’

To say the least.

In the time between Vancouver and now, Davis and White have been like the Marines, accomplishing more before 6 a.m. than most of us accomplish all day. The biggest highlights for the couple were a visit with President Barack Obama at the White House with other Team USA members from Vancouver and getting a chance to be feted on the Michigan Stadium field.

Back in April, the couple was performing in a show for the Smucker’s Stars on Ice tour in Bridgeport, Conn., and after the show, Davis and White drove through the night toWashington, D.C., so they could make it to the White House. They arrived in the nation’s capital bleary eyed and the day was marred by rain. But it was worth the effort.

“We all got to shake his hand and the First Lady,’’ Davis said. “Because it was raining, they separated us in rooms by team so we really got a chance to see the president up close. We were really, really glad we were able to have that opportunity.’’

And when they returned to Michigan’s campus, they got another once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: a chance to have the Michigan fans cheer for them while they were on the football field. Davis and White were recognized during a timeout Sept. 25 whenMichigan played Bowling Green, a game the Wolverines won, 65-21.

“Being recognized on the field and having the band play the Michigan fight song was one of the coolest opportunities we had,’’ said White, who grew up in the Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills and cheered on the Wolverines every football Saturday.

Davis and White, who have enough class credits to be juniors at Michigan (Davis even squeezed in a class this summer), have a dear place in their heart for the Maize and Blue. Their school has returned the favor. Before Davis and White headed toVancouver, Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez, hockey coach Red Berenson and basketball coach John Beilein signed a Michigan flag for them to take to the Winter Games.

The Olympic hype might have dwindled a little bit now, but a new Olympic cycle is dawning. And their journey to Sochi begins this week in Nagoya.

Davis and White won’t be the only U.S. representatives from Vancouver who will be competing in the NHK Trophy. Joining them will be women’s national champion Rachael Flatt, U.S. men’s champion Jeremy Abbott and U.S. pairs champions Caydee Denney and Jeremy Barrett.

But Davis and White are the only U.S. medal winners from Vancouver who are competing this season. Olympic gold medalist Evan Lysacek, who has enjoyed his post-Vancouver success by competing on “Dancing With the Stars,’’ hasn’t retired from competitive skating, but won’t be in the Grand Prix circuit this season.

Davis and White aren’t certain what the future holds for their skating career but they are talking about the possibility of competing in a second Olympic Winter Games.

“We’re always taking things year by year,’’ White said. “We didn’t go into the Olympics and say, ‘Well, should we continue after this or not?’ But after worlds, we definitely decided we wanted to continue. And now, Sochi is in the back of our minds.’’

What turned the tide at worlds?

A big motivator was the fact that Davis and White won the free dance portion of the competition, beating the Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada. Although Virtue and Moir were good enough overall to capture the world crown, they only beat Davis and White by 1.4 points. In Vancouver, Virtue and Moir won by a margin of 5.83 points.

“We had an amazing year and winning the free dance at worlds was a great ending,’’Davis said. “After the season was over and we had a chance to analyze our careers, we realized that we achieved a lot of our goals and have an Olympic silver medal, but we still want to improve our skating.’’

Only three U.S. ice dancing teams have earned Olympic medals since the sport was added to the Olympic program in 1976. No U.S. ice dancing team has won the Olympic gold. Davis and White, who were childhood friends who have been skating together since 1997, could make history if they continue to compete at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

Nearer on the horizon is the NHK Trophy and Davis and White are the clear favorites to win in Nagoya. The highest-ranked team after them is Italy’s Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte, who were 11th at the 2010 World Championships. The only other Americans entered in the dance competition are the sister-brother team of Maia and Alex Shibutani, who train with Davis and White and will be making their debut at the senior level at this event.

Olympians Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates, who are close friends with Davis and White and started training with their coaches, Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, this summer, were entered in the NHK Trophy but were forced to withdraw when Samuelson’s skate blade cut Bates’s Achilles tendon in a practice mishap in late September. Davis and White were training with Samuelson and Bates when the accident happened. The injury is expected to sideline Bates for about six months.

“I was watching and it looked like she just nicked the back of his ankle,’’ White said. “It didn’t look like much. It wasn’t overly dramatic, but then we found out how serious it was.

“Evan is one of my best friends,’’ added White, who was Bates’s roommate last year. “He and Emily improved our training center. I’ve talked to him and told him that good things happen to good people, and he will be back.’’

Even though Davis and White will be the star attraction in Japan, they are not without challenges.

A lot has changed for Davis and White since Vancouver, but a lot has changed in the skating world, too. The last time Davis and White competed, they had to perform a compulsory dance, a routine that focuses on dancers’ technique. Each team had to skate the same moves to the same music. In the minds of most coaches and judges, the compulsory portion separated the top teams from the rest. But for most skaters, compulsories were tedious, uncreative and downright boring. Compulsories were one of three parts of the dance competition.

So over the summer, a new competition format was introduced. Gone are the traditional compulsories, and in is the “short dance,’’ which includes some compulsory moves but also allows for some skating freedom.

“It is so nice not to have compulsories anymore,’’ White said.

As for the free dance, the couple is using a combination of pieces from the Italian movie, “Il Postino,’’ which has a tango feeling and is a departure from their “Phantom of the Opera’’ free dance from last season.

It will be tough for Davis and White to improve upon their programs from last season. Audiences enjoyed their original Bollywood-themed dance so much that the couple even performed it on tour.

Davis and White will always look back on 2010 with fond memories, but when history looks back on their career, this year could mark just the beginning


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