Last year was a big one for Meryl Davis and Charlie White. The ice dancers, who have been partners for nearly two decades, broke world records in their free dance and short programs at the 2014 Olympic winter games, bringing home their life-long goal—a gold medal, and the first ever for the U.S. in the sport’s history.
In the time since, White and Davis, who we rooted for on Dancing with the Stars post-win, have shown no signs of slowing down. With an upcoming wedding to plan (White will wed fellow ice dancer Tanith Belbin this spring with Meryl acting as bridesmaid!), a foundation in the works for Davis, the Stars on Ice tour, and plans for a children’s book featuring two young skaters you may have heard of, we were lucky to sit down with the skaters in a rare moment of stasis. The duo, both students at the University of Michigan, fielded our questions, including most importantly, if they'll be competing in Pyeongchang, South Korea come 2018!
What brings you guys to New York?Meryl Davis (MD): We're being honored with a Thurman Munson Award. They have an event that supports a foundation for people with developmental issues, and sort of encourages activities that get them feeling like they’re making progress, so it’s a great cause. We’re also hoping to write a children’s book about two young figure skaters, so we had a meeting this morning getting that underway, which is really exciting!
Has the momentum slowed down?MD: It’s almost a year since we won. It’s interesting because we trained so consistently for so long that now that we’re taking a year off of competition, traveling and doing other things—time sort of moves at a different pace.
Faster or slower?MD: Faster, way faster. It doesn’t feel like a year’s gone by, mainly because we haven’t really been home.
Charlie White (CW): Yeah, it’s been insane. It’s been fun, but we would never go to New York at this time of the year—we’d be getting ready for competitions. I don’t know if you ever felt like, in school like, when you had a test coming up, everything you planned around it either pre-test or post-test. That’s kind of how we were with competition—our life was broken up into segments between competitions, so without any of these competitions, the momentum has kept up and increased if anything, especially of late.
Both of you have had a momentous 2014. On top of the Olympics, Meryl, you won Dancing with the Stars, and Charlie, you got engaged.MD: Yeah! It’s funny though because this trip especially, we’re working on a lot of different projects that we have just sort of started, so it’s exciting because we have new things coming up in this year as well.
CW: Yep, got engaged. 2014 is going to be tough to top.
Did you decide where you’re honeymooning?CW: New Zealand. When we got engaged in Hawaii we asked the native Hawaiians where they vacationed and they were like, “Oh yeah, New Zealand is where it’s at.” So we’ll go to Hawaii for a little bit to kind of break up the long trip, and then head on to New Zealand.
You were recently at Sundance Film Festival. What movies are you excited for?MD: We saw Sleeping with Other People.
CW: It was really funny.
MD: It was funny. The funny thing is it wasn’t really that raunchy. Everyone said that.
Did people recognize you out there?MD: Yeah, I sort of got the feeling a lot of people just kind of stand out on the street trying to figure out if they can recognize anyone. It was a lot of fun. It was definitely an interesting vibe, and beautiful.
The big question that everyone’s probably asking you: Are you hoping to compete again in the 2018 Olympics?MD: We haven’t decided. We feel that it’s interesting because we feel like we achieved what we really wanted to in Sochi, and if we decided to go another four years to the 2018 games, we feel like we’d need to find a real purpose to go, just because we know what it takes with the dedication, the sacrifice, the time, and the energy. You can’t just be like, “Oh yeah! I’ll go to another Olympics, that sounds awesome!” We know. It’s a very big decision. So we sort of feel like we’re not really thinking about it. We’re skating a lot, so it’s not like we’d have to get back in shape or dust off all the rust. We’ll probably decide coming up in the next year or so.
How long would it take to prepare for another Olympics?MD: Competitive season is October through March. Usually Olympics season start a little sooner since the Olympics are in February, so typically early September is when you start competing. We would really start getting ready probably the April or May leading into that year, so we would have a bit of time to figure it out, which is nice.
You guys are so young to have already hit your life achievement.CW: It’s all downhill from here.
MD: I’m starting a foundation and I called Michelle Kwan the other day to ask her advice. Obviously she’s an icon in figure skating, but she’s done amazing things since as well, and she was just saying that she always had this goal of getting to a place in her life where she would go in for a job interview, give everyone her resume, and at the end she’d be like, “Oh yeah, and I was an Olympic figure skater as well.” She was saying she has so much else to give, and so many other things that qualify her for a job, or whatever it is she’s trying to achieve. She didn’t go away from her competitive skating career like, “look what I’ve done! This is my life’s achievement,” which I thought was a really brilliant way of looking at it.
We work with a lot of kids and we talk to them a lot about, it’s not the achievement, but it’s sort of what you learn through sport that’s so important, and I think when you teach that enough you really start to think of it that way. I feel like, whether or not we go back to competition, I think we’ve learned so much about life and working, and what’s important in our journey to winning the Olympics, that really those things will serve us better than the medal.
What was harder: Dancing with the Stars or competing in the Olympics?Both (simultaneously): Competing in the Olympics.
CW: Not even close. Maybe we would've been a bit more stressed out to compete on Dancing with the Stars if it was in a different point in our lives, but when we did it, we had just won the Olympics. I mean, not to take anything away from it, but a dancing reality TV show versus your lifetime achievement, it’s kind of different scales.
MD: It’s interesting because when you’re competing in most sports, but especially in skating, it’s such a performance that it needs to be perfect. If you’re a hockey player or a basketball player, you can make a mistake and still have a great game, whereas for us, it has to be perfect, otherwise your decades of work is just wasted. We knew that we had a really great shot of winning, so coming away from that and then going into Dancing with the Stars, it was like a dance party!
CW: Plus we already had a silver medal coming into these Olympics. A lot of times Olympians will come in and it’s like,“If we could just get a medal that would be great,” and that’s kind of what we were thinking in 2010, but if you already have the silver, and we didn’t lose for two years leading up to the Olympics, so we were like, "If we lose, it's going to suck for a long time." Having to make the most of it, and the pressure we put on ourselves was tremendous. You warm up and wait for your turn, hearing the other teams ahead of you skate and the crowd’s going crazy. You just sit there and you’re rocking back and forth like, “Oh my god, why would anyone do this to themselves?!”
How do you maintain zen in those situations?MD: You’re just trying to convince yourself not to run away.
CW: You’re like, “People will look for me if I run right now.” As soon as we step on the ice it’s better. You know you’ll calm down and just feel like you’re in the correct place, but I think such a big part is the preparation and knowing that you’ve done literally everything you could training-wise. You’ve eaten right for four years, you haven’t stayed up all night, and that’s the kind of thing you can look back on and be like, “Ok, well if something happens, it’s a hard sport and it happens, but I’ve done everything that I can and I can rely on that," and so your body really knows what it needs to do.
Who are your dream contestants for the next season of DWTS?CW: I always think it’s fun when people have a little bit of a dance background. Like with Alfonso [Ribeiro], it was fun to see him dance and he was good, you know. It is fun too to see the progression, like when someone starts with no dance background at all, to see them progress. I like when they can come out there and just kill it and blow peoples' expectations away. Specifically, I always like to see super famous people, which isn’t easy because oftentimes they’re the most busy. Anyone who can just come out and show their personality, you know?
MD: I’m interested to see what happens with the professionals. I know Derek’s not doing it this season, and he’s obviously a big part of the show. Maks isn’t doing it, Cheryl’s gone, but I think, especially after so many seasons of the show, the pros have almost become more famous, so to see who they decide to go with, and what fresh faces they decide to bring out, it’ll be interesting.
Are you still in touch with Maks?MD: Yeah! Of course.
We recently spoke with fellow DWTS contestant Katherine Jenkins about the show's infamous tanning ritual. How often do they spray tan you?
MD: It used to be once a week. You spray tan on Sundays. I liked it! It’s funny because when skating we wear tights, so we have the short dresses, but I feel like the tights sort of create a layer of security. Wearing a tiny, tiny little skirt with no tights is a different thing.
The last time you came you told us about how you helped to make your own outfits for the ice. Did you get to do that on DWTS too?
MD: Charlie and I were doing a skating tour at the same time we were doing Dancing with the Stars, so we would be on the road Tuesday through Sunday and just go back to LA for the show. Our partners came with us on the road, so we’d practice with them in the morning and then we’d go do the skating show, so they took control off all the costuming. We had no time or energy, it was pretty crazy!
You’re finishing up your degrees at the University of Michigan. How do students on campus react to you?CW: U of M had a day where they were trying to raise money for all the student organizations, and one of my friends was helping out to sort of organize that, so we went out and brought our medals just to help raise money, and it was a great response. Kids were great and I feel like everywhere we go we like to talk about the University of Michigan. We love it there, and education's very important to us. I think we have a very special connection with the school, so it was cool to see the students recognized us and we were able to just like, talk. It was celebratory.
MD: The school’s always been really supportive of us and helpful, so to feel like we’re embraced by the student body is really nice too. We’ve gone out on the field at halftime for a couple games.
Since you guys are always away on tour, what's one thing you always have to bring along?MD: I always bring a candle with me just because when you’re in hotels a lot it doesn’t feel homey, so I bring a travel candle with me to try to make it cozy.
CW: I try to bring my fiancée [Tanith Belbin] with me. Luckily she’s a skater too, so she's been in a lot of the shows we’ve been doing these past couple of months, so it makes such a difference having her there with me. We have two dogs so we had to ship them off to her parents who live in Atlanta. For two months we were missing our little babies.