NEW YORK — When Meryl Davis sees that photo, that tight feeling returns.
The picture, taken by a U.S. Figure Skating team leader, captured Davis and ice dance partner Charlie White, as they waited in between a warm-up and one of their programs at the Iceberg Skating Palace at the Sochi Olympics.
Davis and White haven’t competed since becoming the first U.S. Olympic ice dance champions on Feb. 17, 2014. They’ve continued to skate in the 603 days since, in shows and at events such as the opening of The Rink at Rockefeller Center on Tuesday morning.
How often do they think about returning to competition?
“Only when you guys [the media] are asking,” White said Tuesday. “I don’t mean to be flippant. I literally don’t think about it.”
But they feel it, such as the nervousness as spectators inside the Shanghai Sports Center on March 25, watching their former peers perform the World Championships short dance.
“We still felt really invested in the competition,” Davis said.
Or when Davis comes across that picture from Sochi.
White, too, remembers that tight feeling just before the biggest competition of their lives.
“Full-on, you’re thinking to yourself like, if I run away right now, how mad will everyone be,” said White, seated to the left of Davis, his ice dance partner of nearly 20 years, at the Rock Center Café on Tuesday afternoon. “You’re so terrified because of what the moment represents. You can’t escape it. It’s like the Eye of Sauron [from “Lord of the Rings”].”
Davis and White announced in March what many suspected, that they would not compete in the 2015-16 season.
The decision came easily.
“It wasn’t, like, an answer we had to search for,” White said Tuesday. “It wasn’t something where we had to sit down and even have a conversation. We just knew.”
Their stance about the future has not changed. Davis and White are open to returning, if the feeling is right.
“We’re just not on that clock right now, and it’s really nice,” Davis said. “I think we’ll just wait for it to just pop up one day. We’ll just wait for an epiphany.”
White said they will sense it together, if and when it comes.
“The feeling that we need to have to be able to get onto the ice and push through that brick wall every single day,” he said, joking that feeling occured about 15 times per day leading into Sochi but now passes about once every 20 days.
What’s clear is that Davis and White would not leave a run for their third Olympics to the last minute.
White said they would probably have to return no later than halfway through the 2016-17 season if the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games are their target.
Many athletes say they would need a full season of competition going into an Olympic year, but that’s not a requirement for Davis and White.
“Especially with the fact that we’re still skating, we’re still in front of people, we’ve skated together for 20 years,” White said. “Our speed, our power, explosion, it’s not going anywhere for 10 years.”
White, who turns 28 on Oct. 24, then paused and chuckled.
“Maybe seven years,” he said.
Longtime training partners and Canadian rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, the Vancouver 2010 gold medalists and Sochi silver medalists, also haven’t competed since the Olympics. They reportedly plan to decide if they’ll come back before the 2016-17 season.
Ice dance evolved during the couples’ break. In Shanghai, France’s Gabriella Papadakis, then 19, and Guillaume Cizeron, then 20, became the youngest World champions in the event in 40 years.
Davis and White watched the Worlds free dance on March 27 on a tablet while in a car en route to a hotel. They saw Papadakis and Cizeron jump from fourth after the short dance to first to supplant U.S. Olympians Madison Chock and Evan Bates.
“We’re not that far removed from being out there with them,” White said.
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