While it may not have been given a 75-minute television special titled “The Decision,” it is a decision figure skating fans around the world had anxiously awaited – and for a long time.
At long last, that decision has been reached.
Three years and five days after winning gold at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games, ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White have announced they will not defend their title at the 2018 Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea.
The first Americans to win Olympic ice dance gold, Davis and White long left the fate of their competitive future up in the air while they pursued other opportunities and interests, finally making the announcement Wednesday morning on the “TODAY” show.
Davis and White are not hanging up their skates – far from it for the team that still averages four days a week on the ice performing in shows such as this spring’s “Stars on Ice” – but they will not be pursuing a third Olympic team, nor do they foresee a return to competition in the near future.
The two-time world champions, who also earned Olympic silver in 2010 and Olympic team bronze in 2014, said that while the choice was bittersweet, they realized it is “the right call” for them.
They do hope to be in PyeongChang, though they are not sure in what capacity.
But they made two things clear: 1) They are not retiring and refuse to use the word; 2) This announcement “doesn’t by any means diminish our excitement for the Olympic movement and it doesn’t diminish the excitement that we have for figure skating,” White said.
Davis and White, who have been together nearly 20 years, spoke exclusively to TeamUSA.org prior to their announcement regarding their decision, what they learned in their time off, and their future.
How did you reach this decision?
Davis: Well, it was a long road. We were talking recently about the fact that, as athletes, everything is always about being prepared and planning for what’s coming in order to be successful. After Sochi, regardless of whether we would return to competition, it was interesting for us to be OK with the idea of not really knowing the answer to that, and we really allowed ourselves to remain there up until this point. It’s been an incredible three years for us to have that on the table and know that it’s a possibility and sort of go through that decision-making process from a place where we really had the opportunity to make the decision for ourselves. So after a long time and a lot of thought, this definitely feels like the right decision for us.
When did you decide?
White: Once it was within a year of the next Olympics, I think we decided that we needed to finalize the approach we had. We felt like it’s been coming for a while. Obviously there’s so many positives on both sides to competing and to not competing. Just weighing those in time as we learned so many things about ourselves in the process of stepping away from competition – we really found new people, and how new Meryl and Charlie reacted to returning to competition and all the things that are involved in the process, I think we started to feel more and more comfortable with continuing on the path of exploration and self-discovery that we set up for ourselves away from competitive skating.
How realistic was a return to competition?
Davis: I think that’s what really took so long for us to make that decision, it’s that we knew it was a possibility. We’re skating all the time, we’re learning and growing on the ice as artists and athletes. We’re young. We love our sport more than ever. There was this push and pull between the idea of continuing in this direction of exploring life outside of competition or returning to that challenging comfort zone that we had known for so many years. And I think the fact that we can make the decision of our own accord – unfortunately so many athletes are forced to make that decision because of injury or other influences – the fact that we were able to have that time to really make that decision on our own is something we’re really grateful for.
Will you use the “r” word – are you retiring?
White: Hey, hey! We can’t use that kind of language around here. But seriously, no. We’re not retiring. That’s not to say we’re planning on competing again. We’re not retiring. What we’re thinking about right now is that we’re not competing at the Olympics, which is obviously the biggest event in the sport.
Does that mean you’re leaving the door open to a potential future return to competition?
White: So not the next Olympics, which would be 2022 – 2026, however. Uh, no. It’s not even a question of leaving the door open or anything; I think it’s more of the approach of retirement. That’s not something we’re concerned with one way or the other because that’s foregoing competitive eligibility and fully moving on with your lives. I think for us, right now, the main thing is the Olympics and the Olympic season being less than one year away.
As you explored the world outside of competitive skating over the past three years, what is it that you learned most about yourselves?
Davis: I think that one of the things I’ve certainly learned is that finding one true passion doesn’t necessarily exist. It’s actually been really hard, the idea of allowing yourself to be open to anything and everything and trying to find one thing or several things that really speak to you and moving in that direction. So over the course of the last three-ish years, I’ve really allowed myself to be open to so many things that I’ve tried to take on that challenge of listening to myself and figuring out where my passions lie, and starting to form a path that I feel really good about and really excited about. That’s been a process and something I feel like I’ve had to put a lot of time and energy into.
White: I always say that as an athlete, you have to be very selfish with your time and energy. I think, for me, being able to step away and having the extra time and energy to devote to your family, your loved ones – and finding out more about how you can impact the world – has just been so much fun. We’ve enjoyed the process of continuing to grow and learn and experience new things, but at the same time being able to just take the time with our families – especially having just gotten married – I really haven’t taken that for granted. It’s really been something special because for so long we were only half present for a lot of the time, and families aren’t around forever and we’re not around forever. It’s the kind of thing you have to be able to appreciate while you can, and being able to do that has been really special.
You have spent three years trying new things and discovering your passions. What conclusions have you come to and what do your futures hold?
Davis: That is a great question and one I don’t feel like I necessarily can answer, but I do feel like something I really consciously would love to work towards is doing justice to the things that Charlie and I talk to kids about that we’ve learned from being Olympians and competitive skaters. We don’t just talk about them because we feel like it’s going to be effective for them; we talk about them because we genuinely believe in them. I’d like to be doing justice to those ideas of: life’s going to be really hard sometimes and we will inevitably fall down, but being able to pick yourself back up when things get hard; and utilizing the support of people around you and being there for them; being a part of your community – these are all things we have learned on the way to becoming Olympic champions, but they’re things that we really, really feel strongly about embodying as we move forward as well. I think for me, that’s the focus. I don’t know what my job will be necessarily, but I do know I want to embody those things.
White: I feel very strongly in much the same way that there are so many awesome lessons, perspectives and philosophies that we come in contact with and have taken into ourselves and tried to embody. I think being able to take those lessons and find ways to help kids, to help communities, to help society in general to benefit from them, and I think taking our social equity and representing the ideals of Olympism and what it means to be an Olympic champion in society and transforming that into ways that can make a real difference, that’s the goal. Much like Meryl, I can’t say exactly what form that’s going to take. What’s been fun is finding the people and finding the spaces where that is taking place now and how we can fit into that moving forward.
How much longer do you envision yourselves performing in skating shows?
White: That’s a good question, and it might be a question of whether we run out of steam first or the market is simply like, we’re tired of Meryl and Charlie, let’s replace them. I think right now we’ve found a really great way to stay involved. We feel like we’re growing on the ice, we feel like we’re making a better and bigger impact as show skaters as we continue to learn more about the sport and specifically about performing and making it real for the audience.
For so long, we were focused on the judges. It’s really been a challenge to try to bring everybody into our experience and make sure they go home as happy as possible. Right now we’re enjoying it, and if there comes a moment where we decide we’d like to spend our time on something else, there would still be opportunities, but maybe it won’t be quite so non-stop, because that really has been the case, and, in that, we’re very lucky because a lot of people don’t get to do what we do for a living, and we’re making the most of it. Definitely at some point we’re going to want to move on, and it’s just going to depend on how we’re feeling, and I think that’s OK because we’re not in a hurry to figure it out one way or the other.