By Brian Cazenueve
When Meryl Davis and Charlie White won a silver medal at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, they didn't take much time to bask in their achievement. Instead they immediately started thinking about their next steps — and ultimately another trip to the Olympics.
"Meryl and I looked at each other right afterward, and we were saying, 'What's next?'" White recalls. "It wasn't that we were upset at our result; we just knew there was so much more to accomplish."
That says a lot. On that night, the skaters received the highest scores of their careers up to that point. Since then, the drive for continued success have made them the greatest U.S. ice dance team of all time.
Ice dancing is considered to be the most artistic of all four figure skating disciplines. Throws, jumps, and overhead lifts are not permitted as they are in pairs skating, and dancers must skate to the defined beats and rhythms or their music selections. Dancers may perform to anything from waltzes to sambas to jazz tunes to classical melodies. Above all, they have to be in sync, skating with such precision that they can become shadows or reflections of each other.
For Davis, 27, and White, 26, it was a match made in the neighborhood. The pair grew up 10 minutes apart in a Detroit suburb. White took up figure skating to help him with his balance while he was playing hockey. The couple even lost a year of training time when White broke an ankle during a hockey tournament in 2006. Davis honed her determination by working hard in the classroom. She grew up with dyslexia and still had trouble reading into high school. Through diligent study, she became a member of the National Honor Society and is now majoring in cultural anthropology at the University of Michigan, where she also studies Italian.
"When we skate, it's like a fantasy world," says Davis, who has skated with White for 16 years. "You can allow yourself to become a different character. You forget all your troubles and jump into this world of make-believe and pretend."
Arrival of a Rivalry
Davis and White have risen to the top of the world of ice dancing, having won two world championships — the only times a U.S. dance team has taken home gold at a world championship or Olympics — and four straight Grand Prix Finals, a prestigious competition that includes only the top six skaters or teams from each discipline.
Since the Vancouver Games, Davis's and White's stiffest competition have been the Canadian pair of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, a team that trains at the same rink in Canton, Michigan. The two teams have traded places at the top of the podium: Virtue and Moir won gold medals in Vancouver and at the world championships in 2010 and '12. Davis and White took world titles in '11 and '13. At each competition, the North American duo that didn't win finished second. The rivalry will be as fierce as ever in Sochi, with Davis and White looking to take care of some unfinished business.
"Meryl and I understand each other on the ice," White says. "We communicate without words, and we both know what the other person is trying to say with their skating. We've been together so long, each of us is an extension of the other person."
When the competition in Sochi begins, they'll perform their short program to the song "I Could Have Danced All Night." They won't have to pretend.
For more coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympics and interviews with Olympians, check out Sports Illustrated Kids'Guide to the Games!
Photo: CHARLIE NEIBERGALL/AP