It was 1997 and Charlie White had poor posture.
He was eight years old and had been skating since he was three but after playing ice hockey he had developed bad habits. To improve his skating, White’s parents decided to sign him up for ice dancing lessons.
One town over in West Bloomfield, Mich., nine-year-old Meryl Davis was in a similar situation. She, too, had decided to take up ice dancing and was looking for a partner. The choice seemed obvious. The two young skaters had both trained at the Detroit Skating Club for years, and White’s single skating coach at the time, Seth Chafetz, thought to himself, “Why not give it a try?”
The way White, who grew up in Bloomfield Hills, Mich., and Davis came together couldn’t be further from a storybook beginning. Their first skating session was so insignificant at the time that Davis said she barely even remembers when she met her partner.
“I have absolutely no recollection of it,” she said trying to think back to the introduction. “I can only remember someone asking me to skate with this crazy kid and thinking that I had no idea what I was doing.”
But certainly what is most uncommon about Davis and White is that their partnership from its coincidental beginnings has endured 13 years later, leading them to the University of Michigan. What started out as an admittedly awkward practice session between Davis and White at such a young age has now grown into a wildly successful partnership that is currently the longest of its kind in American ice dancing.
Tomorrow, White and Davis, who won the gold medal in ice dance at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships three weeks ago — their second consecutive national title — will travel to Vancouver to compete in the 2010 Winter Olympics. The U.S. has never taken home a gold medal in ice dancing, but many think Davis and White are the couple to change all that.
“Everywhere we go people always want to know why we have always skated with each other,” White said after a recent practice session. “We’ve been asked a thousand times, ‘How is it you manage to stay together?’ and neither of us really have an answer. It’s just always worked out.”
An ice dancer’s life is rarely left to chance. Every move on the ice, every flinch is carefully calculated. Make no mistake, it’s incredibly rare for two ice dancers to skate together as long as they have, but for Davis and White, things do seem to have just “worked out.”
Considering the way Davis and White began their careers together, it was highly improbable the two would stay a team forever. It’s not unusual for high-performance ice dancers to cross the country, or even the world, in search of a partner to take them to the next level. And it takes an almost perfect combination of athletes with similar body sizes, skating ability and goals to make the right team.
Even after finding the right partner, it takes some ice dancing teams years to truly know whether they can succeed at the highest level together.
Davis and White are not one of those teams.
It wasn’t long after the two started skating together that they began their ascent through the ice dancing ranks. Six months after they met, in March 1998, the team reached the Junior National Championships — the highest competition in the sport at the junior level. And despite being small for their age and competing against teams who had been paired together and training for years, they shocked everyone and finished second.
“Generally what happens is, after a performance like that, you move up a level and it takes years to get used to the harder dances and maneuvers,” White said. “And if you progress well as a team then you’ve got a shot to medal.”
The following season Davis and White moved up to the intermediate level. The dancers were more skilled, the routines were more difficult and the competition was tough, but the pair not only qualified for the Junior Olympics, they won first place.