A day in the life of Olympic ice dance champs Meryl Davis and Charlie White
An hour after the event ends, Davis and White are rolling their equipment bags from the Iceberg Skating Palace to the Main Press Center, where they will conduct one of dozens of interviews over the next 24 hours. Walking with them are two agents, two people from U.S. Figure Skating and one from the USOC. A figure-skating official offers assistance. “We carry our own bags,” Davis says, laughing. “Diva,” White jokingly tells her, as he rolls his own by her side. Inside the press center, a few USOC officials hug the skaters, who are standing and waiting to walk into alarge interview room.
“The more people I see, the more I realize it’s real,” Davis tells White.
While they answer questions from reporters, the extent of their achievement seems lost on the two skaters. Davis and White will both later say they are amazed by the fact that they have accomplished what they trained to do for 17 years. “We’ve really been shaped by our own experiences, as most people are,” White says. At that the other skaters begin to laugh. “I should stop now,” he says.
The couple walks next door to the International Broadcast Center, where they will visit NBC’s compound for three more hours. They collect passes for themselves and stickers for their bags in order to gain entrance to the center. “I have five things around my neck,” Davis says, laughing. But the gold medals are not among them; the skaters will get those the following night in the medal ceremony on the outdoor plaza. First, they must talk to Bob Costas.
Davis and White are in a green room in NBC’s compound at the International Broadcast Center. An overhead monitor plays portions of the night’s long programs on super slow-mo, an internal feed with no audio. The monitor begins showing the second half of the program by Davis and White’s Canadian rivals, silver medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir. “Tessa’s dress is beautiful,” Davis says. “That was good,” White adds, picking out a particular transition. Otherwise there is silence until the footage cuts away and the skaters are disappointed.
White scrolls through a series of texts and starts laughing at one. A family member has sent a picture of White’s dog with a note hanging from his neck that says, “You are my champion, always have been and will be forever.”
Davis insists on sitting on the floor of the green room, even though others offer to give their seats to her. “I need to stretch my legs,” she explains, and then says that she often can be found at their home rink in Canton, Mich., sitting on a hallway floor next to unoccupied benches. “See, don’t get up,” she insists. Davis starts padding away the makeup she used for the performance.
“Can’t wait to get this blue makeup off and go back to real life,” she says.
“I’d love to be able to wear that sometime,” a woman from NBC tells her. “Are you done with it?” It’s a clever way of asking if Davis and White will skate again at the world championships next month in Japan. They have not said if they plan to retire now, retire after the worlds or skate again next season. “I don’t know, we’ll see,” Davis says. “My brain is off.”
Davis' brain comes back on as she and White arrive on the set of NBC’s late-night coverage and sit with Bob Costas. He talks about the program they skated to Scheherazade, the tale of the female lead in 1,001 Arabian Nights. A king finds a new partner every night and then kills each one until Scheherazade beguiles him with tales of adventure for 1,001 nights and he decides to spare her life.
“There’s a lot on the line for Scheherazade,” Costas jokes. “Usually the games aren’t about life and death, but they were for her.” As the couple leaves, they compliment Costas on how he handles instructions to his crew, including the subtle improvements he makes to the script scrolling on a monitor in the studio.
“Imagine being so good at what you do,” White says, still unable to process what he and Davis have just done themselves.
After the segment with Costas, the skaters move to another room, where they are asked to describe portions of their program for the network’s website.
“Here, I remember thinking, 'Hey this is going pretty good,'” says White, looking at an early portion of the free dance. “O.K., now this part takes a lot of energy. We’re going end to end. We call it the diagonal footwork.”
“Here I’m thinking, 'Don’t rush,'” Davis says. Then the video cuts to their celebration.
We move on to NBC Radio, another room down the hall in the complex. Paul Wylie, the 1992 Olympic silver medalist, asks how they are holding up at just after 2:00 a.m. local time. Davis laughs and says, “Charlie had some coffee. Charlie never drinks coffee.”
“Yeah, and you’ll know it when I somersault out of here,” he says.
Just like their skating, Davis and White are excellent at doing interviews together and take turns answering questions without interrupting each other. However, at one point Davis begins an answer by saying, “Now that we’re Olympic champions...” and White jumps in to add, “I’m so glad to hear you say that.”
Someone asked White about their progression as skaters and what he says to Davis at the end of their programs.
“When we were younger, we were athletic skaters,” White says. “As we got older, we had to become complete skaters ... I told Meryl I loved her. To go through the most stressful time in the world, it was the perfect time to express how grateful I am to have her by my side.”
After two other interviews, the group heads to NBC’s 24-hour commissary. “Is your stomach growling?” White asks, as he dives in for a cream-filled donut. He closes his eyes as he goes in for a huge bite, leaving remnants of the treat on both sides of his mouth. “O.K., it’s official. We won,” he says. As the other people sitting at the table give him the eye, Davis snaps to and says, “Hey, I’ve been good. I haven’t had a fry.”
In the commissary, Davis sits down and still seems perplexed by the moment in front of her. “What do you do now,” she says. It is a cliché for athletes to suggest they haven’t looked past a major competition, but in their reflective -- and hungry -- moments, Davis and White really mean it. “Eat some more,” White suggests, polishing off the donut.
On their way out of the complex a young woman volunteer in a security outfit asks Davis to pose for a photo. The woman is giggly and star-struck as she removes her hat for the photo. “Here, would you like these?” Davis asks, handing the woman the flowers she received during the post-competition ceremony at the arena. The woman screams with excitement as she runs down the hallway. A fellow security guard chases after her with her hat. The evening’s duties at NBC are done.
The next morning Davis, White and meet for breakfast with assorted friends, family and others at a hotel near the Olympic Village. The group includes Davis’s father, Paul; White’s mother, Jacqui; and some representatives from Visa, which sponsors the couple. White says he managed a “solid two hours” of sleep. Davis chides herself for reading texts and emails for two hours instead of sleeping, breaking her social-media hiatus that she'd held during the games. In a room upstairs, the Visa folks shoot pictures and show Davis and White a commercial, narrated by Morgan Freeman, that ran minutes after their competition. Everybody’s life should be narrated by Morgan Freeman. The actor’s voice praises the couple’s “17 years, 29,000 hours of training, 75 competitions and four-and-a-half flawless minutes.”
After the session concludes, one of the sponsor’s group asks Davis and White to sign a skate. “What should we write?” White asks. “How about a poem,” the man says jokingly. Davis doesn’t miss a beat. “Roses are red, violets are blue, we won the gold, this skate’s for you,” she says. She hands the skate to White. “Charlie’s handwriting is much better,” she says. The seven people in the room start clapping.
The pair take a short car ride to the NBC compound and Davis is aghast at the number of texts she has received since she fell asleep at 5:30 a.m.
“Fifty. Can’t keep up,” she says.
Paul Davis is flipping through his, too. Some people are sending texts without mentioning who they are. At one point, Paul realizes that a text has come from someone he hasn’t heard from in years. “’It’s always best just to say, ‘Thank you,’” he says. After a comparatively quick count, it appears that Davis is ahead of White by 5,000 Twitter followers, most of whom have signed up since the U.S. nationals a month earlier. “Please follow me,” White says to nobody in particular. “I promise I’ll be hilarious.”
After another two interviews, the group heads into an office full of video equipment, where they watch their full program for the first time. They are transfixed. “Why am I nervous all over again?” White asks. For the first three minutes of the program, Davis and White say nothing, but move their heads periodically to the movements in their routines.
“About 30 seconds in, I was thinking, ‘Wow, I’m not visualizing this,’” Davis says. “It’s actually happening.” After another ten seconds she says. “I don’t even remember the twizzles. I think I blacked them out.”
The pair then head outside the compound, into a series of mini-compounds erected just for the Olympics. They walk up a series of metal stairs, pull back a canopy, climb over some wires, shake a few hands and suddenly are on another set. One after another, the settings blend into one another. First they talk to NBC’s Nightly News. Then CNBC. E! wants to know what other famous people they have seen. The Weather Channel wants to know about the heat in Sochi. Billy Bush wants to know if they have ever had or have considered a relationship with each other. (They tell him no.) One set houses crews from local NBC affiliates from across the country; each station takes its turn interviewing the two and tries to find some connection between the skaters, who are from Michigan, and its local area.
“So, Meryl, you have a cousin in Chicago?” “And about that vacation to Philadelphia...” “Wouldn’t it be great to have more skating rinks in San Diego?” “Charlie, have you ever taken a connecting flight through Dallas?”
One interviewer wants to know if they’re good dancers off the ice.
White: “We’re not as smooth at all.” Davis: “Charlie’s a lot less self-conscious.” White: “Not that I’m a better dancer.” Davis: “When you’re on the floor, you’re just stuck there.”
In between media visits, White finds an old picture of him and Davis at Comerica Park after they threw out the first pitch at a Tigers game. Was it a strike? “It was a relay,” he jokes. “Meryl threw it to me from the mound and then I fired it to the catcher. I’m pretty sure the catcher was shaking his hand after my four-seamer. Or maybe I’m glad it got to the plate.”
Davis and White head to the set of the Today show, where they will stay for the three-hour duration. Bobsledders Steven Holcomb and Steve Langdon salute them on their way in. Matt Lauer reminds White of his violin-playing days, then tells the skater that the last time they spoke, White promised he would play a few notes if he and Davis won a gold medal.
“Oh, and we just happen to have a violin with us,” Lauer says.
The skaters appear in several segments throughout the show. The set is packed with people, from technicians and staff working on the show to on-air talent to guests and entourages. It is a constant flow of people and equipment all somehow getting into and out of harm’s way. In the corner of a waiting room, White waits for moments for the show to be in commercial so he can quietly rehearse. He is switching chairs as people move in and out. He is also trying not to poke passers-by in the eye.
“I haven’t done this in three years,” he says. “I’m actually kind of nervous.” But White’s nerves are unfounded as he nails it and exhales. The group on the set claps loudly. During the next commercial break, a lightning technician tells White, “Hey, Charlie, you missed your calling.” Then he thinks better of it. “No,” he says. “Probably not that good, huh?”
Paul Davis and Jacqui White await their entrance for the next segment, and Jacqui is also showing some nerves during the commercial break. As she waits, Marina Zueva, the coach who guided Davis and White during their training in Michigan, walks over to Jacqui and says, “O.K., deep breathing. Bend the knees. Paul, feel your feet.” The final segment goes smoothly. Charlie high-fives a member of the Jamaican bobsled team on his way out of the room and down another set of stairs.
It's nearly nine hours into a long day and the skaters head to the plaza in Olympic Park to receive their gold medals. Games organizers have passed out medals in an outdoor plaza before, but this marks the first time figure skaters have not received their medals right after their programs in the arena. Davis and White are beaming. White exaggerates the weight around his neck by slumping. “It’s really heavy,” he says. “It feels great. I’m not taking this off. It will be on my chest when I wake up in the morning.”
An hour after they received the medals, Davis and White spoke to SI.com to offer their final thoughts on the experience...