America's top ice-dancing duo talks to YP about their prep, poise and what to expect in Sochi as they look to lock down their first Olympic gold medal.
by Gregg Rosenzweig, Published January 16, 2014
They may look like the cast of 'The Blue Lagoon', but Meryl Davis & Charlie White are hoping for more of a 'Golden Pond' thing in the next month. As the longest tenured U.S. ice dance team (16 years running), they just cruised to their sixth U.S. National Championship win last week, yielding a second straight selection to an Olympic team (they won the silver medal in Vancouver 2010).
I caught up with Davis and White a day after posting the highest short dance score in U.S. Championship history. A classic move that could ice the competition at they head to Sochi, where they're favorites to become the first U.S. couple to win a gold medal in ice dance.
Interview With Meryl Davis & Charlie White, 2014 U.S. National Ice Dancing Champions:
You guys posted the highest short dance score in U.S. Championships history on Friday... what lifted you two to new heights?
Charlie: I think it's been a slow growth for us the last four years. Each year we try to top ourselves. We really feel like we have the complete package this year in terms of growth, the programs, the music that we chose... Being able to receive that score and head to the Olympics as national champions means a lot to us.
I read that you brought in five-time 'Dancing With the Stars' champion Derek Hough and a Persian dancer to help with your programs this season. Where's their influence most evident?
Meryl: We were really lucky to work with Derek. He's such an amazing talent. Not only was he able to bring a true ballroom feel to our program, which has been a real asset for that program this year, but it's exciting to learn from one of the best in the world. I think it really rubbed off on us.
How do you two separate yourselves from the pressure of having such great expectations to win?
Charlie: The pressure that we put on ourselves can be greater than any external pressures. We expect the world out of ourselves. We work really hard in practice everyday to beat our own expectations. So I think that really helps combat any sort of external feelings we may have to deal with... expectations and pressure from people or situations. Having been together for so long, I think it's great that we're able to rely on one another.
How did you two originally find each other? When did you know it was right?
Charlie: We were both pretty young. We were eight and nine. I had been doing ice skating for a little while, trying to work my way up. And my coach just recognized that Meryl was the right size, had a really strong skating ability and we kind of matched in terms of our athleticism. We went 'Hey, let's give it a shot.' We really had no idea what we were getting ourselves into. Or what an ice dancing career really meant.
Is this tough on the people that are in your lives romantically? That you spend so much time together?
Meryl: Our career together has been part of our lives since we were young children. All the people that are close to us I think have a lot of respect for what it is we do. We're really grateful to have the support of the loved ones in our lives.
What's the greatest benefit to having over 15 years of experience together?
Meryl: I think that the comfort level is a huge asset when we're going into competition. That we've been skating together for 16 years. We work very hard to make sure we're well-trained before competition and comfortable with our programs. But I think even more so, it's knowing that we can depend on each other when we take to the ice.
As you get older as a team, what gets tougher?
Charlie: I don't think there's a lot that's gotten tougher for us. As we've gotten older, we've gotten smarter. All of the experience that we've had has added up to making our own lives easier in a lot of ways. Our bodies are thankfully very healthy ... We've worked hard to keep them that way. All of the technical elements that we have to do are all very challenging, but we've put in the work to make sure none of it is too difficult for us and we always feel safe. I think heading into competitions we feel more confident and comfortable than ever.
Do you two have any rituals you go through prior to taking the ice?
Meryl: The only ritual we have before going to compete is giving our moms a hug. We're lucky enough to have our moms with us all the time. We're actually part of the Thank You, Momprogram with P&G, where our moms get a chance to be part of the P&G family with us, heading into Sochi. Thanking them for all the support they've given us before we head out to compete is one of our only rituals.
What's the biggest sacrifice you two have made in your lives on your path to greatness?
Charlie: I think that what really makes our career so special is that anything we've really had to give up hasn't really felt so much like a sacrifice. Obviously we've missed out on hanging out with friends a lot. And doing other things. And maybe going skiing every now and then. It's so natural for us to do everything it takes to be the best figure skaters and best ice dance team that we can be.
We really look at all of the things that we've been able to gain from our career in figure skating. We've been able to travel the world ... we've been able to work with some amazing sponsors (Puffs in particular). Maybe that's just how we are as positive people. But sacrifices, while they've been there, they've been made up for by everything we've gained from figure skating.
How many hours of practice time per week does this dynamic duo require? Is it all together or do you do some things individually?
Meryl: We pretty much do everything together, whether we're on or off the ice. Our training is all going toward what we put on the ice together... I think we train probably four hours a day, five days a week. That's on the ice. Then, in addition to that, we work out for maybe three hours doing cardio and weight lifting, maybe a little bit more. We do some ballet and throw some ballroom in there. We spend a lot of our days training together, whether we're on or off the ice.
What's the biggest difference in how you're preparing for Sochi 2014 versus Vancouver in 2010?
Charlie: We know what to expect. We're not coming in so wide-eyed. We're fortunate to have had an amazing Olympic experience the first time. And I think we're just looking to build on that. We were lucky enough to get the silver medal last time. But coming in this time, we set our expectations higher for what we want for the gold.
What does the support of sponsors (such as Puffs) allow you to do that you would not have done otherwise?
Charlie: One of the really amazing things is how they're able to connect us with our fans. And really get the sport of ice dancing out there. As we head into the Olympics, it's evident how much more appeal the sport is getting. And being able to grow basically our livelihood and getting all sorts of fans involved in what we're doing means the world. Having that support makes a huge difference.
Any great concerns about the task you'll be facing in Sochi?
Meryl: One of our major concerns is having our families there to enjoy the experience with us. P&G is really great in terms of the athlete's families, not just the athletes themselves. Heading into Sochi, we know that our moms in particular are part of the Thank You, Mom, program... They're going to be well taken care of. When Charlie and I are in The Village focusing on our training, and being the best that we can... just to have that little bit of extra support from one of our amazing sponsors helps put our minds at ease as we head into Sochi.
Is the plan to pass out Puffs tissues to those who don't make the podium?
Charlie: (Charlie and Meryl laugh) We love to focus on the positive ways to use Puffs tissues. During our last performance, we were told our moms were up there crying and they were able to use them.
Meryl: As figure skaters, we get our marks in an area called the "Kiss and Cry"... because there's always some sort of emotion happening. Whether you're crying out of joy, out of sadness... Puffs is a proud supporter of U.S. figure skating for that reason. It's a perfect partnership.
What's the one emotion that the American public will experience once you're done in Sochi?
Charlie: It's hard to say. Hopefully joy because we skated so well. But we feel like it's our jobs to go out there and really enthrall everyone. We just want to make sure everyone feels like they're part of the story we're telling.
Follow Meryl and Charlie in their quest for gold on Twitter @Meryl_Davis and @CharlieaWhite. Or on NBC when the Winter Olympics begin in Sochi, Russia (Feb. 7 - Feb. 23).