Meryl Davis and Charlie White aren’t your typical college students. In between their studies at the University of Michigan, the most decorated U.S. ice dance team squeezes in agility, cardio and weight training, along with over five hours of ice time a day. A rigorous schedule—and resulting podium success—is nothing new for the duo. For 16 years now, Meryl and Charlie have been rising in the ranks together, taking home silver in the Vancouver Olympics and becoming the first U.S. ice dancing team to win World Championship gold.
Days before stopping by our office, the ice dancers added yet another accolade to their collection, their third Skate America crown for first place short and free dances in Kent, Washington. Now that’s how you start off the 2012-2013 season! We sat down with the champions, who dished their partnership secrets and training strategies for the 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, Russia. Here’s what they had to say (and more!):
What is the biggest difference between ice dancing and pair skating?
CW: In ice dance it’s much more what you would imagine ballroom dancing to be. Closer positions, we’re holding each other like a lot of shows that you see, like So You Think You Can Dance…It’s sort of like that on ice, in a lot of respects, with the lifts that we do and some of the musical choices even, it’s comparable. In pairs, it’s more throwing the partner, lifting them above the head.
MD: We’re much more performance-based, for example we’re allowed to use lyrics in the music that we use, whereas pair skating they have to use instrumental music. It’s much more based on the elements for them, whereas for us, we’re trying to tell a story on the ice. It’s more about general impact, as opposed to going from one thing after another.
Walk us through your typical workout.
MD: We skate five days a week so we get the weekends off, which is nice, but typically we start on the ice around 7 or 8 a.m. Usually we’ll have an hour break somewhere in there, whether it’s an hour straight or two half-hour breaks, but we go for about five hours, sometimes six. When we’re done on the ice, we have a gym upstairs in the same facility where we workout and do some kind of cardio—3 days a week—weight training, agility, things like that. We throw some ballet in there sometimes, too. We avoid it at all costs.
CW: Yeah, [ballet] is a necessary evil for us. It’s never something we’ve embraced but it really helps with the skating, the posture, stuff like that.
MD: Our program this year is actually one of the most classical ballets, Giselle, so when we officially decided on doing that music this year, we unfortunately realized we weren’t going to avoid ballet this season.
CW: I do a lot of lifts with Meryl so it’s important that I have good shoulder stability so we’ll lay down a ladder, for instance, and do sort of agility. I’ll hold a kettlebell while I do it to sort of make sure I can transfer onto the ice that same sort of just balance and yet the strength with my shoulder…the most important thing is for skaters, especially, is just the core and making sure we’re strong through the core.
What’s your secret for being the longest-running ice dancing partnership in U.S. history?
MD: I think we got lucky. It has been a lot of really paying attention to each other, getting to know each other to the point where it’s very functional…I think that we kind of came to the table with different qualities that really complimented each other really well. I also think that we have enough similarities in terms of work ethic and things like that that it really never allowed for kind of devastating issues to arise.
CW: After about 16 years of being together, we can read each other’s minds, like it’s becoming frightening.
How are you both dealing with Olympic pressures?
MD: I think that this year, in particular, we’re really focusing on our relationship and supporting each other. It’s always stressful at competitions but the Olympic games obviously are in a totally different realm. If we can support each other and we feel confident, we can kind of read each other pretty well…if we can get to a place where we are sort of self-reliant, we’ll be good to go.
CW: We have a lot of experience competing. Just in terms of dealing with the pressures with these big competitions, we mostly rely on our training so we’ve been doing that for a long time. Like Meryl said, we’re really trying to take the next step and just be obviously the best team in the world. The relationship between us just on and off the ice is probably the most important thing right now.
MD: In terms of dealing with the pressure, we both have just two of the most amazing, supportive families of anyone we know. Not only do they support us, but they help to keep us grounded and keep perspective. You know, from our moms to our grandparents, they’re all just there for us to such an extent that it’s so easy for us to remember on a daily basis what’s important.
CW: Our moms are sort of known across the skating world as, “The Moms.” They travel together to all of our competitions.
Where do you keep your medals?
CW: I actually have a funny story–it’s funny now. So after the last Olympics, when we won the silver medal, I was just going to leave it at my parent’s house because I was at school, moving between houses and stuff so I just figured it will be safe there. One day my mom calls me, and she’s like, “I have some bad news…I can’t find your Olympic silver medal.”
MD: When we went to events, especially the first year, people would ask to bring them and so I would come with mine and it’s like, “Oh did you guys only get one for the two of you?”
CW: After about a year, it just turned up in a drawer in my parent’s room! It’s still under their protection…
MD: Mine actually went right into a fireproof safe at my parent’s house so mine’s been locked up ever since we got back.
Interested in a medal-worthy smoothie? Charlie has been focusing on increasing his protein intake lately, thanks to his nutritionist, and enjoys blending together protein powder with Chobani yogurt, kale, flax and berries. Follow Meryl and Charlie through their upcoming season on Facebook and Twitter (@Meryl_Davis and @CharlieaWhite).