Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White talk retirement, Olympic Village and more.
Olympic gold medalists Meryl Davis and Charlie White are the most decorated American ice dancers in history, yet they do not plan to compete again. Davis and White, both 30 years old, have not competed since they won the gold medal at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia.
During a 17-year career, the tandem became the 2014 Olympic champions, the 2010 Olympic silver medalists, two-time World champions (2011, 2013), five-time Grand Prix Final champions (2009-13) and six-time U.S. national champions (2009-14).
Despite a lifetime of success, Davis and White are comfortable moving on from competition and enjoying the sport from the side.
Sports Illustrated caught up with Davis and White to chat about their careers, future plans and what it means to be an Olympian.
(Editor's Note: The following interview was lightly edited and condensed).
Nihal Kolur: Before we get into any specifics: For those who are unaware, what is the difference between ice dancing and figure skating?
Charlie White: Ice dancing is a discipline of figure skating. Most people confuse pair skating and ice dancing but ice dancing is much more, 'Dancing With the Stars' on ice, more of a ballroom feel. The connection between the partners is much closer as well and the technical elements we do are less explosive. We do a lot of lifts but we're not allowed to lift over the head and we don't do side by side jumps or spins. The crux of ice dancing is the connection between the partners and the music and how you're able to tell a story.
Nihal Kolur: So what got you interested in figure skating in the first place?
Meryl Davis: We grew up skating, locally in Detroit, as a lot of kids in that area do. We kind of just fell in love with it and we partnered up as a dance team when we were eight and nine. And in Detroit we had access to some of the best coaching and figure skating facilities in the world so we've just been plugging away since the mid '90s and going for it.
Charlie White: My parents just wanted me to skate so I could skate with friends when I was older. Meryl grew up on a lake, so that was sort of the initiative for her. We didn't start figure skating until we were eight or nine, but it's just one of those things that kids get hooked on sometimes and it was the case for us. And when you enjoy something, you work harder. And when you work harder, you have more success in competitions. And that's the real kind of encouragement to keep going.
NK: Did partnering at such a young age help you succeed?
MD: I think we were able to grow together and understand each other and be a great support system. We both understood the big challenge of being an Olympic athlete in such a deep way, which was a tremendous asset to us. And to have the trust and respect that we developed for each other in those early years helped us throughout our career.
NK: Speaking of that challenge, what went into the training to become Olympic champions?
CW: What didn't go in? [laughs].
MD: We had to make a choice early on. We could either go to college and skate on the side or we could go for it. And we really saw our potential so we wanted to sort of maximize our assets. After we made the decision to not go to college right away, we started to train four or five hours a day, plus working out a couple times a week and doing ballet and other dance classes, so it was kind of a full-time job commitment.
NK: What kind of things would you work on?
CW: We would usually work with our coaches and focus on footwork and things like that. We would try to work on specific details, you know, making sure our hands, arms and legs are in the right position, making sure we are matching and that the story we're telling makes sense. At the end of the day we just kind of tried to go through the motions to the point where [our routine] was engrained in our bodies and we could just switch our brain off and go through the motions with the music.
NK: Did you have a specific diet you needed to follow?
MD: We didn't have a specific diet because we were burning so many calories while skating but we just prioritized staying healthy and well nourished.
NK: So once you got to the Olympics, what was that experience like? What was Olympic Village like?
CW: It was an incredible experience because you get to meet a lot of Olympians and its inspiring to hear a lot of these stories about where people come from and what they had overcome to get there. And the best part about the Olympics is that it blurs the line of nationality to the point where we all are just athletes and nothing else matters. The environment at Olympic Village was surreal.
NK: But you don't plan on competing again?
MD: No, no more competitions. We still have a passion for the sport and we don't take the opportunity lightly to be able to do what we love for a living, but we don't want to put ourselves through the stress and work of another competition.
NK: So what's next?
MD: Well we're still involved in the sport and we'll still cheer for our friends but we've also been involved in an organization called Classroom Champions since 2010, which we're really passionate about. Essentially the program pairs athletes with high need classrooms and we record videos once a month that is sent to our teachers and classrooms. And teachers can create lesson plans around these videos because each video has a theme like goal setting, perseverance, community, healthy living - all things that are essential to the development of children. But this stuff is presented to the kids in a way they can understand and often with the example of sports. Sometimes we use our experiences and those of our fellow athletes to highlight failures and successes. Being able to talk to an Olympian piques their interest enough that they're actually receptive to hearing the lessons.
NK: What kind of athletes are involved?
CW: It has to be Olympians. Mainly because the Olympics themselves stand for so many values, which can often go unspoken: Camaraderie, fair play, diversity. Sometimes it gets pushed to the back - so much gets focused on endorsements and medals - but for kids that need mentors in their lives, it's good to hear people who go to the Olympics talk about why these other things are important too.
NK: Have any specific students in the program meant a lot to you?
MD: So I am dyslexic and I mentioned it in one of our videos. So one of the teachers reached out to us saying that one of the students had been having some problems and then I spoke to the class about my story. And I think listening to my story helped not only him, but also the classroom, to understand what he was going through. That was really cool, I mean just to be able to hear any sort of positive impact you can have on people, especially kids, it doesn't get cooler than that.
NK: So even though you won't be competing in Korea, who else should we watch out for?
MD: There's a lot of good teams competing, but we are really excited about the three American teams [Madison Chock/Evan Bates, Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue, Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani] and a couple other teams because they are really talented and we think they'll do well.