Davis, White have 'fire in their bellies' for worlds

After losing to Virtue, Moir at Four Continents, defending world champs are hungry

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By Amy Rosewater, special to
(03/14/2012) - Meryl Davis and Charlie White just might be the first ice dancing team with this moniker: underdog defending world champions.

Entering the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships, which begin March 26 in the luxurious locale of Nice, France, Davis and White are the reigning world champions. They also rode an incredible winning streak, earning 10 consecutive titles dating back to 2010.

But that streak came to a halt last month at the Four Continents Championships in Colorado Springs, where they lost to training mates Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the 2010 Olympic and world champions.

So now they find themselves in a bit of an uphill battle instead of continuing on their merry winning way.

"We have a little more fire under our bellies," Davis admitted.

All of a sudden, after finishing second by a margin of 3.44 points, Davis and White have gone from being the hunted to the role of the hunters.

"The role of the hunted is something we've had to adjust to over the last two years," Davis said. "But the role of the hunter is something we're very familiar with."

Davis and White have enjoyed such success lately that it's hard to recall when they were not the favorites. Ever since 2009, they have been the U.S. ice dancing champions. They have won the last two Grand Prix Final titles, and then they became the first U.S. ice dancing team to capture a world championship. The last time they did not win (besides the recent Four Continents event) was at the 2010 World Championships, where they lost to the Canadians, Virtue and Moir.

Perhaps the timing of an off-competition --- if one can count a silver medal as a bad week at the office --- was actually a good thing. Now Davis and White can focus on reaching the top instead of staying there.

Then again, everything is different this time around at worlds.

A year ago, they did not even know if they would be able to compete at all. That's because the tragic tsunami and earthquakes hit Japan and forced the ISU to change and delay the world championships.

But they kept things in perspective, knowing that people in Japan were losing their lives and their homes, and that in the scheme of things, ice dancing --- even an event as big as the world championships and a shot at a world crown --- would not be such a huge void if it wasn't able to happen after all.

Skaters from around the world had their training schedules and plane reservations thrown for a loop, but at the last minute the event wound up being whipped together --- quite well, actually --- in Moscow. Davis and White found that their patience and perspective proved to be worthwhile as they returned from Russia with the world title.

The fact that they won the world crown was met with elation within the American ice dancing community. While Davis and White were skating in Moscow, many ice dancers, including Olympic ice dancer Jerod Swallow, were cheering for them on this side of the Atlantic. Swallow was at the Governing Council meetings in Chicago while worlds were being held and said everyone was glued to a live feed of the dance competition. When the results were announced and Davis and White had won the world crown, the meeting room in Chicago was filled with loud cheers and high fives.

Davis and White said this year they do not feel the pressure of having to put on a "history-making performance" and they have more of a "personal focus" this time around.

Although the two said they have been working harder than ever, which Davis joked is difficult for the typically hard-working duo to achieve, they have made time in their schedules to get involved in a couple programs off the ice as well.

Davis and White have become involved in a program called Fitness For Kids, joining such athletes as professional boxing champion Laila Ali and Olympic beach volleyball gold medalist Dain Blanton as its ambassadors.

And just Tuesday, Davis and White spoke with Olympic bobsledding gold medalist Steve Mesler, who has added the ice dancers as ambassadors to his nonprofit program called Classroom Champions. The goal of the program, founded by Mesler and his sister, Leigh, is to inspire and educate students in high-need schools. Olympic athletes connect with students on a monthly basis via video.

One athlete involved in the program is track and field Olympic bronze medalist David Oliver, who meets via Internet with a class in New York City. The kids from that class went to see him compete earlier this year at a meet held in Madison Square Garden.

Following the Olympic Games in London this summer, Mesler will shift gears to winter sports athletes, and that's where Davis and White will play a role. They will be athlete ambassadors for the 2012-13 school year.

White said that he and Davis spoke with their agent at IMG about getting involved in programs with an educational bent. They are both students at the University of Michigan and have always stressed the importance of getting an education. They have done public-service announcements to promote reading programs.

"We are so excited to be part of it," White said. "It's amazing ... very inspiring for us."

Davis added that they hope to impart words of wisdom not only about their success but to share some of the struggles they encountered on the way to the top.

"I'm really excited to share our own experiences, past and present, with these kids," she said.

Mesler, who represented Team USA at the Olympic Winter Games in 2002 and 2006, and helped end a 62-year gold medal drought in the bobsled in 2010, was a U.S. Olympic teammate of Davis and White's in Vancouver.

"We figured out that our paths had crossed, but now it will be fun to get to know them," Mesler said.

Before Davis and White can get started working with the kids, however, they have to get back to work on the ice at the world championships.

And no matter how they finish in France, they will be champions to a classroom of kids.