NHK Milestone Gives Confidence to Davis and White

by Sal Zanca, Special to U.S. Figure Skating Online

Meryl Davis and Charlie White
Photo by Michelle Wojdyla

(1/9/07) - To hear Meryl Davis tell it, she was relieved when she heard that her partner Charlie White broke his ankle two years ago, effectively putting them a year behind in their ascension the U.S. ice dancing ranks. White broke his ankle in a hockey tournament in Canada two weeks before the 2005 Midwestern Sectional in November 2004 and caused them to miss the 2005 State Farm U.S. Championships.

“His mom called me. She was extremely upset,” Davis recalled. “I was freaking out because I thought someone died or Charlie lost his feet or something.

“Then when she told me he broke his ankle, I was relieved.”

They have since bounced back to set a world record - of sorts - receiving all level fours for their free dance at the 2006 NHK Trophy last month.

That's right. The detailed scoring sheet read like this:

CuLi4+RoLi4
STw4
CiSt4
SlLi4
SeLi4
CoSp4
DiSt4
RoLi4

“All level fours,” White said.

Not even the Olympic or World champions could do better.

“The hard work pays off,” White said. “You go out there and hope you are going to get level fours, but when it turns out you do it, it's fantastic.”

“And no minuses,” Davis said, who is usually in the habit of following up things her partner says.

The back-and-forth repartee for the now 20-year-old Davis (she's a New Year's baby) and the 19-year-old White (turning 20 next October) is something they have had for a long, long time.

Pairing up in late 1997, Davis and White have the longest partnership of any American ice dancing team, skating in more than 20 national and international competitions together.

“Charlie and I take it year by year, and slow,” Davis said.

They remember their first international event that spurred them on, a novice event in Austria in 2002.

“It seems going to Vienna, as our first international competition, opened my eyes to different parts of the world,” White said. “It was just so out of the ordinary, a fantastic European city. Not that Detroit isn't nice but...(long pause)...it's not Vienna.

“On top of that it was our first international competition, so we got a taste of the competitors and judges,” White continued. “And all the little things that go along with all these international competitions - being off your sleep schedule, being comfortable in your comfort zone.”

They understand each other's ups and downs, like when White admitted that telling Davis about his broken ankle wasn't high on his list of priorities.

“Usually when you break something in your body you don't think of the future,” Davis said. “You are thinking of the present pain, the present anguish. So I don't blame him for his basic human instincts.”

They recovered to finish a stellar junior career and now enter the U.S. Championships with a chance to go from the World Junior Team to the senior World Team if they place third or better in Spokane.

Meryl Davis and Charlie White
Photo by Robyn Beck, Getty Images/AFP
Last year they won the U.S. junior title with a free dance that was originally scheduled for 2005, but it was put on hold due to White's injury. They went on to place third at the World Junior Championships in Ljubljana, Slovenia.

They jumped to the senior ranks this year and finished fourth at both Skate Canada and NHK Trophy, placing them 10th overall in the Grand Prix standings.

Davis and White outscored the likes of Great Britain's Sinead Kerr and John Kerr, who placed 11th at the 2006 World Championships in Calgary.

It still has not been easy for them. Both have moved from Bloomfield Hills to Ann Arbor where they are attending the University of Michigan, taking two classes each in the fall. Then there are the four hours training on the ice and sometimes an hour or two of ballet and conditioning off the ice.

Is it worth it?

“Absolutely,” White said emphatically.

He's had to make sacrifices. White gave up hockey, in which he helped his team to the state championship, and singles skating, where he was a national competitor in novice and junior.

“The hardest (to give up) was hockey because it was just more of a personal choice,” White said. “With freestyle I felt it was like I just didn't have any energy.”

But he remembers the broken ankle.

“I got stuck in a rut. When this guy came and checked me, instead of going back this way my leg stayed that way and my body went (this way). I went to skate off the ice and my ankle kind of went over, and I knew it wasn't a good sign.”

Now he worries about swinging Davis around in their free dance to music from the Russian opera “Prince Igor,” which has the familiar theme “Stranger in Paradise” from Kismet.

It is the same music of Oksana Domnina and Maxim Shabalin, the Russians who finished third at the Grand Prix Final. Davis and White have seen the Russian version of it.

“They just show a little more aggressive skating, and we keep it a little smoother,” White said.

But their version of the “Polovetsian Dances" earned them all fours, something Domnina and Shabalin couldn't do - although the Russians outscored them in the program component marks.

“It is a long progression for the program as the year goes along, and it is great to see we are doing so well,” White said. “But there is a lot to be done.”