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Welcome to Open Court. I'm Joanne C. Gerstner, I am a sports journalist, author, college professor, tennis-playing geek, lover of beaches and palm trees, decrier of snow and cold, and binge-consumer of all things BTS. The Open Court newsletter comes out twice per week, usually on Tuesdays and Fridays, and we will dive together into the stuff we need to talk about. I welcome your comments on the newsletters, and thoughts on what you want to see discussed.
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Confession time: As a sports journalist, I get to interact with a ton of people. Some I truly want to get to know better - as people. Others, I quietly hope to never again be in their airspace. I treat both types with the same respect, professionalism, and decency.
Meryl Davis, the 2014 Olympic ice dance gold medalist/2x World Champion/6x U.S. champion, is definitely in the first category. I tried to go back and find the first article I wrote about her, and her ice dance partner Charlie White, when they were starting to draw notice in Metro Detroit as young teen talents at the noted Detroit Skating Club. My best guess puts it back to like 2002ish, when I was the Olympic/ice skating sports writer at the Detroit News.
I’ve written many articles since about them, from the Detroit News to the New York Times, and gotten to know her better. She’s a good person, who just happens to be a once-in-a-generation ice dance talent. (Charlie, you were pretty awesome too. And Charlie, you know I had to do a photo when you had those awesome hairs flowing.)
Meryl, now 35, is retired from competitive skating. She still performs in special events and shows with Charlie, does social media really well, and lives in Los Angeles with her husband and doggie.
When I started Open Court last summer, I knew I wanted to catch up with Meryl at some point to talk about life. This is part one of our chat.
Part two will be a FB live, on Monday at 5 p.m. Eastern at @joannecgerstner. We will be talking about her children’s book, her involvement to get more diversity and opportunity in skating for girls in Detroit, and other stuff.
So please join us.
Here is part 1 with two-time Olympian Meryl Davis...
Open Court: So…what runs through your mind when you are watching the Olympics? Can you be present just as a fan at home, or are you in a different space because of being an Olympian (and a champion!)?
Meryl Davis: It really depends on if I can just sit back to enjoy an event or if I have a job to do. When I’m covering stories or events with Olympics, of course, I’m looking at everything with a critical eye, trying to determine what I can help viewers at home to better understand. Having been an Olympian myself, I know the years of work that go into those few precious moments we see unfold on the ice. Whether I’m working an event or not, I constantly find myself in awe of the grit and determination each of these athletes have.
Open Court: What’s something you think the average person at home maybe misunderstands about being an Olympian/at the Olympics?
Meryl Davis: I think the level of preparation is something that’s hard to grasp for anyone; the time that’s gone into an athlete’s ability to do what they do on an Olympic stage. Hours, days, years… hurdle after hurdle. It starts with a dream and ends in a singular moment, but there is a lifetime of hard work in between that’s difficult to fathom or comprehend.
Open Court: Interesting question I was asked…so I will ask you! Why is it that skating seems to be the big drama when it blows up at the Olympics? Nancy/Tonya, 2002 judging, now the Kamila Valieva sad situation, etc? Other sports have issues, but what is it about skating that seems to make it go nuclear?
Meryl Davis: A great question and not one I’m sure I can really answer, to be honest. I think the relatively subjective and complex nature of the judging system is both intriguing and frustrating all at once. We each have our opinions and our favorites and because it doesn't always come down to something concrete like a timestamp at a finish line, multiple opinions can be valid even if they’re in stark contrast to one another. Of course, the performance side of skating adds to the unique experience for spectators. It’s sport. It’s entertainment. It’s drama. That’s figure skating.
Open Court: I keep thinking about the little ones that start skating, usually a boost after the Olympics because of the TV aspect. We both started skating as little ones (yep, props to me for my beginner, novice and intermediate USFSA patches that I still have), and were lucky to have family and good coaches around us. You got to build your career and stay home in Metro Detroit - which is a blessing.
I am a little haunted thinking about the kids who are not around the good coaches or family who do not care about them as people first. From my experience, some of the most intense awful things I have known about come in skating and gymnastics - where you can be good at the highest level as young teen, you need to leave home for training (not to mention competitions), and yes, the body is on display a bit and you are physically tiny. Knowing what you know, is there anything we (the public/parents/skating community) can do to make things better for the kids who want to start skating in wake of Beijing…to stop the bad stuff?
Open Court: A lot of the Olympians and Paralympians I talk to, who have had the chance to go to multiple Games, say the same thing: the first time was super intense and emotionally/mentally draining because of the build-up in their heads. The next time(s), they learn how to better diffuse the circus. What was your 2010 v. 2014 like? What were the parts that you had to learn to filter?
Meryl Davis: My experience was the total opposite of that, honestly. While the 2010 Games, our first, were appropriately intimidating, Charlie and I really felt free to celebrate the experience as a whole. We went to the Opening Ceremonies, got to be spectators at some of the other events, and really didn’t feel a ton of pressure in terms of our results. Yes, we wanted to do our best and make our country and families proud, of course, but it was all relatively stress-free. Coming into 2014, on the other hand, we were very focused on the task at hand and felt we had a job to do. With gold on the line, we were grateful that we’d had the experience we did in 2010 because we were solely focused on the performances themselves in Sochi. The contrast of the two experiences worked nicely, actually, and I just feel so very lucky to have had them both.
Open Court: In the same vein, you and Charlie accomplished everything possible in the sport. Did that make your decision easier to stop competitive skating, or was there something else to it?
Open Court: I was fascinated hearing Shaun White’s comments after his final snowboard run in Beijing, saying he’s happy to move to the next chapter of his life, because there are so many things he wants to do...that he couldn’t do in training mode. You have made that transition, what are/were the things you wanted to put back into your life after competitive skating?
Meryl Davis: I think reaching an elite level in any industry takes a certain amount of sacrifice. For years, there was no question in my mind as to whether or not those many sacrifices we were making were worth it. As I get further away from that Olympic mindset, though, I’m grateful to now have the opportunity to be present. As an athlete in training, I was always looking either forward or back – what could I have done better or differently, constantly assessing my own performances, and trying to figure out how I could improve for the next time around. While I try to maintain some of that focus and discipline, today, I also appreciate the opportunity to just “be.”
Open Court: How do you define who you are today? What makes you professionally/personally happy?
Meryl Davis: Hmmm, well I’m still very much a work in progress. Now, though, I think my focus is more on finding meaning and beauty in quiet moments than it is on achieving. One of the greatest things about making your dreams come true is that you realize nothing really changes; nothing of consequence, anyway. With that in mind, I try to enjoy the ride more than I once did… Sometimes we win, sometimes we lose; more importantly, how much fun did you have along the way?
Join us Monday for the FB Live, where we will chat about the other things Meryl has going on in her life beyond skating!
Open Court publishes on Tuesdays and Fridays, bringing you the stuff we need to talk about with author and sports journalist Joanne C. Gerstner.
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