Olympic champions appear on 'TODAY' show, collect medals in rain
Less than a day after winning the first Olympic gold medal for the United States in ice dancing, Meryl Davis and Charlie White were still going strong.
White joked that he only had about two hours of sleep, yet somehow he and Davis plowed through an appearance on NBC's TODAY show, countless telephone interviews with reporters back in the United States, a reception thrown by U.S. Figure Skating and then a medal ceremony in the pouring rain.
Clearly, winning a gold medal can give you an added boost of energy.
"It's been a real whirlwind," White told a crowd of skaters, coaches, officials and relatives -- many of whom have known Davis and White for more than a decade -- at a reception held in the USA House. "We worked hard every day in practice to make all of you proud."
In addition to celebrating their own personal milestone, Davis and White took time out of their day to celebrate their coaches. Team USA created a ceremony called Order of Ikkos to recognize coaches of Olympic medalists, and before the start of the figure skating reception, Davis and White honored their coaches, Marina Zoueva, Oleg Epstein and Johnny Johns, and gave them each medals.
"Right now, we're here for our coaches like they have been for us," White said. "They deserve all the respect and admiration in the world."
When Davis thanked Zoueva, she thanked her for her coaching but also for her impact on the sport of ice dancing. Zoueva is one of the most accomplished coaches in figure skating, having worked with Olympic pairs champions Katia Gordeeva and Sergei Grinkov in the former Soviet Union, then leading Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir to the gold medal in Vancouver and now directing Davis and White to the gold.
"Thank you from the skating world in general for transcending our sport," Davis told Zoueva. "Thank you for making an impact and creating something that people will remember."
Davis and White started their afternoon at the TODAY show set in Sochi, and even though it was gray and rainy, many American fans stopped by with umbrellas to cheer for them. During a previous trip to the show, White let on that, in addition to ice skating, he is also a talented violinist. So, show producers provided him with a violin and had him perform for audiences back home. He didn't play any portion of Scheherazade, the music to which he and Davis performed in their free dance, but he impressed nonetheless.
While they were at the studio, Davis and White were able to watch their free dance on TV. It was a surreal experience for Davis' father, Paul. Until that moment, he said their performance in Sochi still seemed like a figment of his imagination. Watching the replay, he said, oddly made everything become real.
Davis and White were practically destined to reach this point. Born in the same Michigan hospital, they grew up eight minutes apart. They began skating together when he was 8 and she was 9. Seventeen years later, they wrote figure skating history together.
Certainly, it wasn't obvious from the first moment they skated together that they would one day become Olympic champions, but the two did experience success early in their careers, and by the time they were in their teens at the junior level, their families began to realize the Olympics wasn't such a far-fetched idea.
"I'd say they were about 15 or 16 and skating at the junior level," Paul Davis said. "They went through every other level and beat all their rivals, and then at the junior level, they did it again."
They ended up winning six U.S. titles, two world championships and, now, an Olympic gold medal.
Following the Order of Ikkos ceremony and reception, the duo finally received their gold medals at about 9:10 p.m. Sochi time.
The medal ceremonies have been held outside in Olympic Park, and it didn't matter that the rain was falling steadily. The two stood on top of the medal stand with their Olympic gold medals around their necks and both sang as the national anthem was played. On flat screens throughout the USA House, their medal ceremony was shown, and when the "Star-Spangled Banner" began, everyone in the crowded house -- which included Olympic champions (skier Julia Mancuso was there, as was Kristi Yamaguchi), athletes, officials and sponsors -- stopped what they were doing and stood up from their seats.
"We are thrilled beyond belief that the U.S won its first gold medal in ice dance," said U.S. Figure Skating President Patricia St. Peter, who noted that she judged the two during their early days. "For 17 years, Charlie and Meryl made that commitment to each other, and as we all know, it wasn't a straight line to the top."
Although the gold medal is about their performance on the ice, it has been viewed as a victory for American ice dancing as well. Davis even referred to the gold medal as a "symbol of things to come in U.S. ice dance." With two other American ice dance teams in attendance at the USA House (Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani), Davis spoke with optimism about the sport's future in the United States.
"This success," she said, "Is just the beginning."