It’s not every day that University President Mary Sue Coleman calls students on their cell phones.
But after University students and ice dancers Charlie White and Meryl Davis won silver medals in the 2010 Olympic Winter Games last month, Coleman did just that.
“I was just listening to my voicemails after the free dance, and I came upon one that said, ‘Oh, hi Meryl, this is Mary Sue Coleman,’ and I was a little shocked but very excited and honored,” Davis said in an interview last week.
Coleman wasn’t the only one on campus rooting for Davis and White. Thousands of students watched the pair perform on television and offered support through e-mails, texts and Facebook statuses. Davis said she even got e-mails of encouragement from professors she had during her freshman year.
And the support didn’t stop at students and professors. Before the pair took off for Vancouver, Michigan hockey coach Red Berenson, Michigan men’s basketball coach John Beilein and Michigan football coach Rich Rodriguez signed a large University of Michigan flag and gave it to Davis and White to take to the games for good luck.
In Vancouver, Davis and White scored a 215.74 across their three dances — falling a few points shy of Canadian ice dancers Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who won the gold with a total score of 221.57 points.
In an interview after returning from the Olympics, Davis and White said that all the support they received throughout their career was a big part of the reason they skated so well at the games.
“To all the people that have helped us over the years — our coaches and parents — it just means so much,” White said.
Though she had dreamed about competing in the Olympics since she began skating at the age of five, Davis said the games exceeded all her expectations.
“As an athlete, you have a long time to kind of wonder what the Olympics might be like and kind of build up the experience in your head,” Davis said. “But for us, it was just an incredible experience, and it was everything we hoped for.”
Coming into the competition, many were optimistic that the two skaters would take the gold — which would have been the first time that a pair from the United States came out on top in ice dancing at the Olympics.
But White said the two couldn’t be more pleased with their silver medals.
“We put in so much time and effort over the 13 years we’ve been together,” he said. “To be able to skate so well at the Olympics and come away with a silver medal was very satisfying.”
Davis emphatically agreed with White.
“The Olympics is such a pinnacle of our sport, and it only comes every four years,” she said. “So in order to be true you really don’t want to make any mistakes. You want to skate your best, and for us we definitely did that, and we came away not only proud of our silver medals, but proud of the way we skated.”
During their time at the Olympics, the pair got the chance to skate to some pop culture favorites. For the Exhibition portion of the competition, they performed to a cover of Michael Jackson’s “Billie Jean.” Their free dance was to music from musical “Phantom of the Opera” and for their original dance, the two skated to a medley of Indian songs.
When asked which was his favorite performance, White likened the dances to the pair’s “children” and said he couldn’t choose.
“Honestly, I can’t pick one because they were all so good that without any one of them, you know, it might not have happened the way it did,” he said.
The pair’s coaches, Igor Shpilband and Marina Zoueva, also trained the Canadian pair that claimed gold in Vancouver, Virtue and Moir. Both pairs have been training with each other for the last five years.
While Virtue and Moir came out in first, there are no harsh feelings between the ice dancers, Davis and White said. Everyone gets along well, Davis said, mostly because their careers have followed the same “path.”
“I think that part of the reason that we’re such close friends actually is because we’re close competitors, and so we really understand what we’re all going through,” she said.
White and Davis are also friends with University students Emily Samuelson and Evan Bates — another ice dancing pair that placed 11th at the Vancouver games.
“The whole American team was very close,” White said. “We all support each other. When we’re on the ice we’re out there doing our job, but when off the ice, we’re really good friends, and I think that’s the way it works best.”
In an interview last week, Samuelson and Bates said the teams are more friends than rivals.
“We’ve known each other forever and we’ve trained near the same area for nearly all our lives, so we’re pretty good friends with them,” Samuelson said.
Bates, who has lived with White the last two years, said he couldn’t be happier that his roommate came in second place.
“I’m proud of my roommate,” he said. “Winning the silver medal at the Olympics is pretty amazing.”
Though he has skated in front of large crowds before, Bates said it was intimidating enough to skate at the Olympics in the packed arena in Vancouver, let alone with more than 100 million more people watching on television.
“If I had known about how many people were really watching on TV, like that total number, it would have probably freaked me out, so I didn’t really think about that and just wanted to skate like I normally would in front of a big crowd,” Bates said.
Both teams said the most difficult part of the Olympics experience was arriving in Vancouver for the opening ceremony, but then being forced to wait a week before competing.
“We went through the opening ceremonies, and we were really geeked about the Olympics, but then we had to calm down a little bit before we went out,” White said. “So just the time between the opening and when we actually competed, it was pretty tough.”
Despite that gap, Davis said mingling with all the athletes from different sports and countries at the games was a unique experience that she tried hard to “really soak in.”
White said one of the highlights of the games was getting to meet professional hockey players. White added that he felt a little star-struck when he met Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg, Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and Red Wings coach Mike Babcock.
Though the three acted like “totally normal guys hanging out, eating food,” when they were in the cafeteria in the Olympic Village, White said they were often mobbed with fans.
“You knew when you saw a flock of people around somebody that it was probably one of those guys,” he said.
While having a meal one day, Davis and White discovered that not only athletes drew swarms of people.
“It was really crowded, and we couldn’t figure out what athlete was causing such a raucous in the cafeteria, and we kind of peered through the crowd, and it was Arnold Schwarzenegger,” Davis said with a laugh.
While the skaters had two weeks to live their dream, they are all now back to work — with three weeks to train before the 2010 World Figure Skating Championships in Torino, Italy.
“It’s kind of cool we go from the Olympics to the venue where the last Olympics was at, so it will be neat, but it’s hard because we have to train these next few weeks, and we come home and all we want to do is relax,” said Samuelson, who is training with Bates at the Ann Arbor Ice Cube.
White and Davis are continuing their training at the at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, Mich.
After the competition in Torino, White and Davis will perform in Stars on Ice — a 40-stop ice dancing tour around the U.S.
Since Davis, who is majoring in anthropology, and White, who is still undecided, took off winter semester to focus on skating, they said they had hoped to enroll in spring classes. But because Stars on Ice lasts until mid-June, Davis said she’s not so sure that will happen. Instead, the two aim to return as dedicated Wolverines next fall.
“We will be back at U of M as soon as possible,” she said. “We’re also living on campus so we’re there in everything except for academic spirit.”