Sochi, Russia —They grew up together in Oakland County, from the time they were nine years old, sharing childhood, adolescence and a passionate love for skating.
After a journey of 17 years in which they held hands and skated out on to the ice thousands of times, and with a second record-setting performance in two nights at the 2014 Sochi Games, Meryl Davis and Charlie White became the first American ice dancers to win a gold medal.
In a stunning, haunting free dance to music they said meant so much to them because of its beauty and the story it tells, “Scheherazade” by the Russian composer Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov, they performed a routine choreographed by their Russian coach, Marina Zueva, before a Russian audience with a sophisticated knowledge of the sport.
The crowd was keen on their skaters winning. But the respectful applause and cheers acknowledged a special moment in figure skating.
When it was over, at the very summit of their sport, Davis and White said they hardly knew what to do or say.
“It hasn’t sunk in yet, not even close,” said Davis, of West Bloomfield. “We think maybe it will take seeing our families and friends.
“We prepared so well for what it was that we wanted to put on the ice that we don’t even know how to react, now. We were so focused on the event that now that it’s over, we’re like where do we go? What do we do?”
Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada, the 2010 champions who also train at Arctic Edge, took silver. Russia’s Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov captured bronze.
France’s Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, who train at Novi Ice Arena, were fourth, 6.26 points out of bronze. The other U.S. teams, Madison Chock and Evan Bates and siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, finished eighth and ninth. Bates is a Michigan graduate, and the Shibutanis also attended Michigan. A total of six teams that train, live in or are from Metro Detroit finished in the top 10 while seven others finished betwen 11-20.
As it was in 2010 in Vancouver, White’s body seemed completely limp after the performance.
“People ask, ‘How can that happen? Don’t you train hard?’ ” said White, of Bloomfield Hills.
“The more in shape I am the harder we can push ourselves, and I think that was reflected in the scores
“So, yeah, I was exhausted, because we tried really hard.”
No American couple, including a pairs team, ever has won a gold medal. All 14 previous golds came in the men’s and women’s competitions.
Davis and White also are the only Americans to win two medals in ice dancing. They won the silver in Vancouver.
Having received the bronze for the team competition at the Sochi Games, they now possess all three Olympic medals.
Only one other American skater in history has three medals, Beatrix Loughran.
Davis and White say they always have loved “Scheherazade” and always intended to skate to it.
“But we wanted to wait until our talents were more fully developed, so we could perform fully what we felt for the music,” Davis explained when they skated the program in November at Joe Louis Arena.
It is a story of a king who sleeps with a virgin every night and then has each beheaded. Until he meets Scheherazade, who tells him a story so beautiful and compelling he must hear more. At the end of 1,001 stories, on the 1,001st night, Scheherazade says she knows of no more to tell.
In love, the king marries her.
“The music and the story of Scheherazade are something we connect with and have been in love with for a long time,” White said. “But it was a process of being able to embody those characters and the music, and to be bigger than the music and not let it overcome us.
“And it’s taken the last four years of day-in and day-out practice, and working with Marina and having her show us the way.”
The program helped give the couple the characteristics that transformed to fine, athletic skaters into a passionate couple.
Zueva pressed them to exhibit more sexual tension on the ice. The story of the virgin and Rimsky-Korsakov’s music helped get them there.
It also helped them dethrone their friends, training partners and rivals, Virtue and Moir.
When the event was over and, just the opposite of Vancouver, Davis and White had the gold and Virtue and Moir the silver, the couples met to skate out for the flower ceremony.
All four were plainly jubilant.
They exchanged big hugs, with White slapping Moir on the back repeatedly. Moir kissed Davis on both cheeks and Virtue and Davis exchanged high-fives.
Later, they all posed with their coaches in what amounted to a team photo. From left to right, it was Oleg Epstein, White, Davis, Johnny Johns, Virtue, Moir and Zueva.
Epstein and Johns assist Zueva. Skating with Melissa Militano in 1974 and 1975, Johns won two U.S. pairs championships.
Zueva said she was proud of her charges and the programs they skated. She said she purposefully designed both programs, beginning four years ago after Vancouver, to appeal to a Russian audience — not so much because of the audience, but because their pleasure would help Davis and White perform.
“They both know how difficult it has been,” Zueva said of her pupils. “They both compete so hard. Every day they take the bar higher and higher for each other.
“Lots of training, lots of practice, lots of pain, body pain. It isn’t easy for them.
“I’m really happy, really happy and proud of my students.”
There may never be anything like Davis and White and Virtue and Moir in figure skating again, two teams of rivals who train together, who are friends and who each win Olympic gold and silver medals competing against each other.
And, the likelihood is, they never will compete against each other again after Sochi.
Virtue and Moir said their plan is to tour with Stars on Ice, and do not know if they will compete again as amateurs.
Davis said she and White will stay in Sochi and train after the Games before leaving the country. The defending world champions are likely to defend their title later this year, just as Virtue and Moir decided to defend their Olympic gold.
But that would be a third World Championship for Davis and White, and barring injury or tripping over a rut in bad ice, and with their chief rivals not there, it is a virtual certainty.
Meanwhile, Davis would be 31 and White 30 at the next Olympics in South Korea.
They remain juniors at the University of Michigan and continually express keen interest in completing their degrees.
While many veteran figure skating observers say they fully expect Davis and White to announce after the World Championships they will skate only professionally from then on, they said they have not yet reached that point in considering their futures.
As the two duos sat for a final news conference, the pressure seemed to lift and they enjoyed each others’ company, and the moment.
Davis said that as each minute passed, it was occurring to her more and more she and White were Olympic gold medalists.
They were asked if, 50 years from now, they will still be friends — the four of them.
“I’m not sure we’ll be talking to each other every day,” Virtue said. “But when we do, I know we’ll pick up right where we left off.”