Davis, White eyeing Olympic gold
SOCHI, Russia -- She wore a flowing pink gown and a shiny comb in her hair. He sported a long tail tuxedo. They paced behind the boards at the Iceberg Skating Palace, shaking out their legs and rolling their necks.
If Meryl Davis and Charlie White hadn't been stomping around on skate guards, it would have been hard to tell whether they were waiting to stand up in a wedding or get into the blocks for a quarter-mile on the track.
The partnership between the world's best ice dancers has lasted longer than many marriages and it has been a well-paced marathon. Davis, 27, and White, 26, have held hands and moved forward together for 17 years now. Sunday evening, they took their first few hundred tightly choreographed steps toward achieving their last unfulfilled goal: an Olympic gold medal.
Davis and White and the defending champion Canadian tandem of Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are the point of a flying wedge that has pushed the boundaries for their discipline the way the un-sequined dudes and dudettes of halfpipe and slopestyle have for theirs, albeit with rules that keep them largely earthbound.
The two teams share a suburban Detroit training rink, a gifted expatriate Russian coach and a commitment to excellence that has upped the degree of difficulty in ice dance season after season over the past four years. Leading up to these Winter Games, Davis and White invested in the technical detail and theatrical grace notes they hoped would separate them from their closest peers, a feat they have achieved in the 2011 and 2013 world championships.
Davis and White managed to open up a substantial gap of 2.56 points Sunday with a program that couldn't have been executed with much more precision and spirit, netting them a season-best score of 78.89.
Their program is a "My Fair Lady" medley that begins and ends with "I Could Have Danced All Night." The lyrics state the obvious about their day job, but their conjoined athletes' hearts hardly took flight all at once as the words imply.
Davis and White are troupers in the traditional sense, trained down to the small muscles that enable them to smile when their hearts are aching. Like any consummate performers, they try to keep their backstage machinery invisible. But some of what they do to project ease and flow takes as much boot camp as ballet. Their thrice-weekly gym and cardio workouts are constructed by former decathlete Chad Smith, who has worked with the NHL's L.A. Kings and NFL prospects preparing for the combine.
When Davis and White were matched up as grade-school kids, he had hockey on the brain. She was a shy girl with dyslexia who struggled to decode sheet music while practicing the flute but could feel a melody with her entire being.
"I couldn't process the notes fast enough to keep up with the pace of the song," Davis said in an interview during the national championships in Boston last month. "Translating that to the ice, I found it much easier to let my body flow with the tempo of the music than I did reading music. I really learned to enjoy, worry-free, in terms of moving with the music. It's been a really beautiful part of my life."
White's challenge was to graft emotion onto athleticism with his friend and business partner, and to meet her halfway in creating romantic chemistry without the pheromones of a real-life love affair. "It's finding your way into a comfort zone with being something that you aren't," he said.
The respect between the two is no act, however. Davis and White wouldn't have endured this long if they didn't give each other some appropriate distance through all these years of professional intimacy.
They're opposites in many regards except for their work ethic, which has propelled them to the top of the skating world and kept them tunneling away at University of Michigan degrees with a hand-held ice pick, one class at a time. White's public sense of humor ranges from corny to mildly biting, but he is a focused Golden Retriever under that blond mop, while Davis' lilting sparrow of a voice belies her steel.
"They just don't argue," Davis' mother, Cheryl, said in a recent interview alongside White's mother, Jacqui. "They discuss things. If they feel too upset to talk without arguing, they'll give each other the space they need and come back to the table. I think they both must have been therapists in another life."
The two moms, who watched Sunday's competition from the stands in the latest stop of a global journey, still see the silhouettes of their endearingly unpolished children inside the strong, elegant grown-ups whirling around the ice.
"I just start to choke up watching them sometimes because I get this flash -- how did this happen?" Jacqui said.
"Somebody asked us the other day about how much we've sacrificed," Cheryl Davis said. "We've had the time of our lives. Our kids have given us the greatest lives that we would have never had."
Added Jacqui, "I don't think we ever could have imagined, looking into the future, that they would become what they are now."
No matter the outcome of Monday's free skate duel, Davis and White are a twosome that has helped leave the sport better than they found it. It's hard to beg for more.