Ice Network

Davis, White close competitive door to open others

Olympic champions busy with show skating, maintaining personal lives
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Charlie White feels that he and Meryl Davis have actually improved as skaters since they stopped competing. -Getty Images

Three years after winning Olympic gold in Sochi, Meryl Davis and Charlie White ruled out returning to competition for the PyeongChang Olympics. Their storybook career, however, continues.

The skaters, born nine months apart at the same Michigan hospital, have enjoyed a charmed 20-year partnership. They grew up a few miles from each other. Their heights and personalities were a good fit. They shared the same fierce work ethic.

Now, they're both ready to close a chapter, not due to injury or age but because they love where they are, personally and professionally. And as usual, they're in perfect step.

"I think we felt for a while this was the right decision to make, but there was always this pull in the backs of our minds, knowing there were new things we could potentially bring to competitive ice," Davis said.

"The biggest (factor) was if we didn't feel we were 100 percent prepared to give everything we had, which is what we did leading up to 2014," White said. "We know that's the only way we would be satisfied with our approach to anything, but specifically in skating, we have a baseline we are used to. If we don't feel we could get back to that level mentally, it's not the right thing to do."

The following are excerpts from a conversation held with the skaters at Rockefeller Plaza on Wednesday, Feb. 23.

Icenetwork: Are you simply enjoying yourselves too much to return?

Charlie White: The main thing in ice dance is you can't make any mistakes. If you want to get the highest score you can, if you want to have a chance to win, you have to commit yourself to understanding that you have to do whatever it takes to not make any mistakes. The mental focus -- day in, day out -- to commit to that is tremendous.

Meryl Davis: Something so defining for our success on the ice was always making the right decision. Whether it was our training, our mental preparation, our philosophy, our outlook, maintaining the schedule that's right for an elite athlete -- we always made a decision that would ultimately lead to the success we had. Being open and available to explore new adventures without an agenda is a feeling we didn't have before. We're relishing the opportunity to feel that for the first time in our lives.

Icenetwork: You've watched this season's competitions. The bar is high. Do you think you're still capable of competing with the best?

White: One hundred percent. If anything, I feel we've improved. Our skating has improved, but even more so our maturity, our ability to relate to one another and to the audience. All of our show skating and all of the other great things we've been able to do off the ice, we've continued to grow as people, and that's a quality I think would be recognized in competition. So it's definitely not a question of if we can do it, and I think that's a nice thing to be able say.

Icenetwork: Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada were your training partners and biggest rivals. They're making a spectacular return after two seasons away. Is watching them bittersweet?

White: Emotions are at play, for sure. There's a moment of reflection that is sort of forced upon you when someone you've traveled the same road with for so long makes a life-altering decision the way they did last year. There were some real divergent moments and some flashpoints that caused our journeys to go down separate paths. We're able to respect their decision and what they continue to bring to the sport while maintaining the confidence and comfort of taking our own path.

Davis: We've been competing against them since we were 12 or 13, so seeing them return made me take a step back and think how I feel about it. You can see they are 100 percent dedicated and loving where they are in life, and the beauty of it is Charlie and I are too, on the other side of things.

Icenetwork: Charlie, you're doing quite a bit of ice dance commentary, and while you offer mostly positive feedback, you also give some constructive criticism.

White: When I first started, I thought, "I'm going to call it as it is. If it's not as good as it should be, I'm going to say it." But the second you start evaluating, you see the passion in the skaters' faces and movements. I love to highlight that aspect. Maybe a team isn't technically as strong, but I look at the commitment, the heartfelt emotion and even the struggle that comes with trying things a little out of range -- that's OK. [My commentary] is something skaters can listen to and enjoy without feelings being hurt.

At the same time, if I'm only positive, the audience may be like, "Why is there any discrepancy in scores?" With Tessa and Scott, for example, when you see their free dance, you can compare it to their short dance: where are the strengths, what are they bringing out in the free as compared to the short. There are ways to stay positive and also critique.

Icenetwork: Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France have had so much success winning the last two world titles that some observers think other teams are beginning to imitate them.

White: I think that kind of just happens, right? For so long the approach to programs was dominated by the Marina [Zoueva] and Igor [Shpilband] style, not so much the tempo or speed or type of music but the connecting steps, the way the technical elements played with the program. With Tanith [Belbin] and Ben [Agosto], and then Tessa and Scott and us, even though we have different styles, there was a core similarity there. [The French] were a breath of fresh air, and I know I appreciated it when they came in with a different style completely, a different way (of) connecting steps. [The imitation] will self-correct as people realize where their strength is. I'm looking forward to that as they find their way to find programs for the Olympic season.

Davis: I think the Marina and Igor style, the effort that went into the difficulty of movement and the choreography was more visible, which makes for a more dramatic and maybe dynamic style of skating. The French, especially the first year they came out, I felt as though the course of their four-minute, 10-second free dance was --

White: A cloud passing along the sky.

Icenetwork: The Canadians and French finished one-two at the Grand Prix Final and head into the 2017 World Championships as favorites. How would you handicap them?

White: From a technical standpoint, Tessa and Scott's foundation of skating is the highest of all the teams. Their ability to go in and out of movements, where you can't see the end of one movement and beginning of the next, is unparalleled. So much of that comes from experience and confidence and base talent.

The French are similar, but it hasn't matured in the same way because it hasn't been formed in the crucible of maybe the most difficult competition. [Papadakis and Cizeron] are dancers who happen to come together on the ice, and Tessa and Scott are more traditional ice dancers.

Icenetwork: The U.S. Stars on Ice tour opens in Ft. Myers, Florida, on April 13. You do so much performing -- you just got back from Art of Ice in Switzerland -- how do you keep things fresh?

Davis: I had sort of an epiphany this year. We've been doing shows now for three years relatively nonstop, and we love it; we feel like we've been growing on the ice in every way, really. I've been looking around at what makes a successful skater in that atmosphere. In our (most recent) tour in Japan, we performed with some legends, including Katia Gordeeva skating with David Pelletier, and Yuka Sato was there. I try to watch them and take a look at their approach and figure out what it is that makes them so special on the ice.

Also, getting a chance to have a couple of conversations with Scott Hamilton, I feel I have a newfound appreciation for the impact, the beauty you can bring to people's lives with shows like Stars on Ice. That was a lot of the decision not to return to competition. For us, it's exciting to push the envelope and be the best we can be for people who come to watch.

Icenetwork: I imagine not returning to competition fits in well with your personal lives.

White: Life with Tanith is great. I'm incredibly lucky. That feeling hasn't died down at all. We're coming up on two years in April being married, and we're together almost eight years. To be able to be an active participant in family gatherings, having even more energy to devote to my relationship with Tanith, has been really special. The forecast is also great.

Davis: I bought a house in Birmingham (Michigan), where I live with Fedor [Andreev] (former Canadian bronze medalist and Zoueva's son). It's great. We are both on the road a lot. He works for Boston Consulting Group, a top-tier consulting group, with large corporations, so depending what case he is on, his job description changes.

Icenetwork: Lots of things are happening in your old training center, Arctic Edge in Canton.

Davis: We skate there when we are home; we're on the road 80, 85 percent of the time. When we get there, it's fun to see the Shibutanis, Patrick [Chan], sometimes Nathan [Chen], and Haven [Denney] and Brandon [Frazier]. Now Gracie [Gold] is there, too. It's exciting to go and watch and be inspired by the dedication you can feel from these young athletes.

White: Mostly, we practice on our own. We did just finish a program with Marina, and every now and then she'll be, "Hey, that doesn't look good," which we appreciate. It's a great energy at that place.

Icenetwork: Do you still have your parking spot?

Davis: Oh, yeah. Sometimes we go and people are parked there randomly, because they don't expect us. We'll go inside and say, "Hey, you're in our spot!"