“That in itself justified 17 years of hard work,” Charlie White said upon winning ice dance gold for the Americans in Sochi. He was talking about the moment his partner, the elegant Meryl Davis, rested her head on his shoulder after their remarkable performance in the free dance. The pair had performed to the music of Scheherazade, named for the enchanting storyteller of One Thousand and One Nights. The number must have felt right, for Charlie White and Meryl Davis have been skating together for nearly a thousand and one weeks. White was just a nine-year-old boy when they began, Davis an “older woman” of ten. For perspective on longevity, the average length of an American first marriage is eight years, and the average for a second is ten. The remarkable achievement of Davis and White celebrates not just ability and dedication, but the rare temperament and character required for extraordinary teamwork over the long haul. As resilient sports partnerships go, perhaps only the Williams sisters and the Bryan brothers in tennis doubles compare–and they have the advantage of shared DNA.
Davis and White have also won the world championships twice and are four time Grand Prix champions. But Olympic gold is Olympic gold, as these skaters know having won the silver medal in Vancouver in 2010. A distinction in ice dancing is the requirement that the dancers must perform to a “beat,” whereas traditional figure skating allows longer interludes of melody. (Granted, this distinction can be pretty hard for the average fan to distinguish.) Ice dancers must also remain close to one another throughout–the jumps and throws common in traditional pairs skating aren’t permitted. It’s this intimacy, this connectedness, that is the essence of the sport. It’s a connectedness that holds, even thrives, in the throes of the rhythmic bounce and ripples of the music–a little like life, at its best. And the connectedness is part of what makes the Davis and White story so inspiring. Stay close, it seems to say, and things will work out. It’s a strategy the legendary Scheherazade knew well.
A glimpse of the Davis-White mastery from the US Figure Skating Championships in Boston, weeks before Sochi: