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February 10, 2010 - Image 14

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The Michigan Daily, 2010-02-10

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Charlie White and Meryl Davis - a pair of University students from the
kids. But,13 years later, in their first Olympic appearance, the pair is the I

s of Detroit - first started skating together when they were just
States's best shot at its first olympic gold medal in ice dancing.

By Ryan A. Podges 11Daily Sports Writer

Photos by Jed Moch (1 Daily Photo Editor

t was 1997 and Charlie White had poor
posture.
He was eight years old and had been
skating since he was three but after play-
ing ice hockey he had developed bad
habits. To improve his skating, White's
parents decided to sign him up for ice
dancing lessons.
One town over in West Bloomfield, Mich.,
nine-year-old Meryl Davis was in a similar
situation. She, too, had decided to take up ice
dancing and was looking for a partner. The
choice seemed obvious. The two young skaters
had both trained at the Detroit Skating Club for
years, and White's single skating coach at the
time, Seth Chafetz, thought to himself, "Why
not give it a try?"
The way White, who grew up in Bloomfield
Hills, Mich., and Davis came together couldn't
be further from a storybook beginning. Their
first skating session was so insignificant at the
time that Davis said she barely even remem-
bers when she met her partner.
"I have absolutely no recollection of it," she
said trying to think back to the introduction. "I
can only remember someone asking me to skate
with this crazy kid and thinking that I had no
idea what I was doing."
But certainly what is most uncommon about
Davis and White is that their partnership from
its coincidental beginnings has endured 13
years later, leading them to the University of
Michigan. What started out as an admittedly
awkward practice session between Davis and
White at such a young age has now grown into
a wildly successful partnership that is cur-
rently the longest of its kind in American ice
dancing.
Tomorrow, White and Davis, who won the
gold medal in ice dance at the U.S. Figure Skat-
ing Championships three weeks ago - their

second consecutive national title - will travel
to Vancouver to compete in the 2010 Winter
Olympics. The U.S. has never taken home a gold
medal in ice dancing, but many think Davis and
White are the couple to change all that.

UNLIKELY BEGINNINGS

"Everywhere we go people always want to
know why we have always skated with each
other," White said after a recent practice ses-
sion. "We've been asked a thousand times,
'How is it you manage to stay together?' and
neither of us really have an answer. It's just
always worked out."
An ice dancer's life is rarely left to chance.
Every move on the ice, every flinch is care-
fully calculated. Make no mistake, it's incred-
ibly rare for two ice dancers to skate together
as long as they have, but for Davis and White,
things do seem to have just "worked out."
Considering the way Davis and White began
their careers together, it was highly improb-
able the two would stay a team forever. It's not
unusual for high-performance ice dancers to
cross the country, or even the world, in search
of a partner to take them to the next level. And
it takes an almost perfect combination of ath-
letes with similar body sizes, skating ability
and goals to make the right team.
Even after finding the right partner, it takes
some ice dancing teams years to truly know
whether they can succeed at the highest level
together.
Davis and White are not one of those teams.
It wasn't long after the two started skating
together that they began their ascent through
the ice dancing ranks. Six months after they
met, in March 1998, the team reached the

Junior National Championships - the highest
competition in the sport at the junior level. And
despite being small for their age and competing
against teams who had been paired together
and training for years, they shocked everyone
and finished second.
"Generally what happens is, after a per-
formance like that, you move up a level and it
takes years to get used to the harder dances and
maneuvers," White said. "And if you progress
well as a team then you've got a shot to medal."
The following season Davis and White
moved up to the intermediate level. The danc-
ers were more skilled, the routines were more
difficult and the competition was tough, but
the pair not only qualified for the Junior Olym-
pics, they won first place.
THE SECRET TO MAKING 'LOVE'
It's difficult to categorize the relation-
ship the two have. After suggesting and then
rejecting several analogies to help describe the
dynamic between them, Davis joked that she
wishes "ice dancing partners" would be a Face-
book relationship status.
"We've gotten really lucky," Davis said.
"We've been together since we were eight, so
as opposed to a team that comes together at age
13, 16 or 18, there's been no awkward moments
between us where we thought, 'Uh-oh, maybe I
like them,' or 'Wow, they're really bossy.'"
Anyone who watches one of their skating
programs would think the two were madly
in love. Their legs swish in unison, their hips
sway in harmony and they anticipate each oth-
er's movements while making flawless flips,
twirls and spins. Their body language and
facial expressions show a sense of emotional

connection and passion that has impressed
judges and audiences all over the world.
But spend an afternoon with them at their
home training rink, Arctic Edge Ice Arena in
Canton, Mich., and it's clear how the energy
between them is created. While many who
have watched them dance wonder if their pas-
sion together on the ice is a product of a roman-
tic relationship, the two maintain that has
never been the case. What you see during their
programs is nothing more than the product of
hard work and showmanship painstakingly
perfected over many years.
"it's hard because we're really close and we
spend so much time together, but there is no
romantic connection despite having to portray
one on the ice," Davis said. "It's not a brother-
sister relationship, although sometimes it takes
that form. It's a working relationship and yet, it
is a friendship."
White agrees. He doesn't seea need to assign
roles or place a label on their relationship. To
him, after years of experiencing large amounts
of pressure, stress, exhaustion and lots of suc-
cess together as a team, the most important
thing to him has been the strong sense of trust
and comfort they have in each other.
"I never have to worry about whether one
day my partner is going to go nuts and just lose
it or suddenly just quit, because these things
absolutely happen," he said. "I know we're in
this for each other and not for ourselves which
I can see isn't something all teams can say."
As far as practicing their "romance" on the
ice, that's something that has become almost
second nature. Davis and White can be skat-
ing around the rink carefree and joking with
friends one second, and the next second be in
each other's arms staring intimately into the
other's eyes as if they were the only two people
in the world. In a typical practice session, they

snap in and out of passionate gazes dozens of
times. Both say it's just a matter of discipline.
"It's not hard anymore for us to just switch
on and off the emotion and romance we need to
display on the ice," White said.
"We can get to that point today really fast
because when you're inches away from some-
one else's face it's hard not to be completely
focused on what they are doing," Davis adds.
"We've learned not to spend time worry-
ing about our connection because we've been
together so long we have amazing trust in each
other."
Despite being one of the sport's top teams,
Davis and White remain relatively unknown
to those outside the ice-dancing world and try
their best to maintain a balance in life away
from the ice. Davis is a member of the Delta
Delta Delta sorority and White is an avid hock-
ey fan. It's difficult, though, to deny that their
ice dancing careers have become a greater pri-
ority recently. Neither Davis nor White is tak-
ing classes this semester, choosing instead to
dedicate their time and energy to training. And
in the last four years, the only time they spent
more than three weeks away from the ice was
to give White time to heal from an ankle injury.
When it comes to preparing for competi-
tions, Davis, White and their Russian coaches,
Igor Shpilband and Marina Zueva, don't let a
single detail of their program go unscruti-
nized. Just to stay in shape, the team skates
a minimum of four hours a day. They review
films of previous competitions and practices
and even attend ballet classes.
But Davis and White see themselves as more
than just ice dancers. They are actors, really,
telling a story and drawing their audience into
a particular scene. Part of the challenge each
ice dancer faces is captivating the audience
with their performance. Ice dancing is as much

about entertainment as it is about technical
skating ability.
One of the programs the two will perform
at the Olympics is based on an Indian dance.
To become more comfortable with the style
of dance, the ice dancers brought in an Indian
dance instructor to help them learn more about
where the dance comes from and its historical
and cultural significance.
A CHANCE TO MAKE HISTORY
For as much success as they've had, the two
have largely risen in the sport of ice dancing in
the shadow of their more famous U.S. Olympic
teammates and now rivals, Tanith Belbin and
Ben Agosto. Belbin and Agosto had won five
consecutive U.S. National Championships from
2004-2008 and won the silver medal at the
2006 Winter Olympics. In 2009, when Davis
and White won their first national title, their
achievement was widely overlooked because
Belbin and Agosto had not competed due to
injury.
This year's National Championship competi-
tion,.however, just three weeks ago in Spokane,
Wash., appears to have changed the ice danc-
ing landscape heading into the 2010 Olympics.
For the first time in any competition, Davis and
White defeated Belbin and Agosto.
To fans that haven't watched the sport of ice
dancing since the last Olympics four years ago,
the victory was an upset. And while few would
have guessed in 2006 that Davis and White
would be Olympic gold medal contenders in
2010, their scores over the years have proven
they had actually closed the gap between
themselves and Belbin and Agosto long ago.
See ICE DANCING, Page 8B

We've been together since we
were eight, so ... there's been no
awkward moments between
us where we thought, 'Uh-oh,
maybe I like them,' or 'Wow,
they're really bossy.'

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