Meryl Davis & Charlie White: “Winning the Gold” | Talks at Google

Meryl Davis & Charlie White: “Winning the Gold” | Talks at Google

[MUSIC PLAYING] SPEAKER: Well, thanks so
much for coming, both of you. MERYL DAVIS: Thank
you for having us. SPEAKER: I thought we
could start with how you guys both started dancing– or skating, I should say. You both started skating
at a very young age. MERYL DAVIS: That’s right. SPEAKER: What kind of
drew you to skating? What did you love about it? And how did that evolve? MERYL DAVIS: Great. Well, like you, since we’ve had
a chance to chat a little bit, I grew up on a lake
locally in Michigan. And that freezes
over in the winter. So I, my family, and a lot
of our fellow neighbors would skate on the rink or
on the lake in the winter, and I just fell in love with it. As some of you probably,
I would imagine, took skating classes
growing up, it’s not super uncommon in this area. So we both took skating
lessons growing up. I was an insanely
energetic child. And so I think my
parents were really glad for me to have an outlet to
go just make all that happen. But I fell in love with
skating immediately as soon as I tried it and just
kind of never looked back. CHARLIE WHITE: Yeah, hi. Thanks for having us. SPEAKER: Yeah. CHARLIE WHITE: So I
think the first thing was “Mighty Ducks” came out. And I hope that’s not a plug. It’s just a movie. MERYL DAVIS: [INAUDIBLE]
favorite movie. CHARLIE WHITE:
And, yeah, and so I wanted to learn
how to play hockey. And also, both my parents
skated a little bit, and had a lot of fun
with their friends, and just wanted me
to be able to manage so I didn’t have to
hang onto the boards if my friends ever went skating. I never went skating with
my friends, by the way. They didn’t want
to skate with me– sorry, I mean, except
for my best friend. They’re just different
categories, Meryl. And, yeah, so I just– I started, and I
fell in love with it. I think it’s such a different
feeling gliding across the ice, and really going fast,
and the athleticism. I did play hockey until I was 18
along with skating with Meryl. So I spent a lot of
time in an ice rink, and I just always loved it. SPEAKER: Excellent. And so both of you
started skating young, and we fast forward. You started skating, but the
partnership took some time. So I heard there’s a story. It took four years
for the two of you to start talking to each
other while skating. So– MERYL DAVIS: Right. SPEAKER: Talk about that. MERYL DAVIS: I need
to explain that. So Charlie and I started getting
together when I was nine, and Charlie was eight. It’s been a long, long time. And I was incredibly shy. Charlie hasn’t changed much. So he was– no. He has changed a lot. No. He was always joking around. And so I think the talking
and the lack of talking was probably more on my end. But ice dance is– it’s something that we didn’t
really understand when we first started. That’s for sure. We were figure skaters. And Charlie’s coach
at the time wanted to find Charlie a little ice
dance partner and that was– he was up. He was eight. So he needed to find
just a young lady who was a good physical match
for him and in terms of skating and stuff like that. And so when we started,
we didn’t really have an idea of what
ice dance was, or– go skate with this little boy. And so I didn’t know when
Charlie was going to throw me or all the other things that
happen in pair skating, which is a different sort
of subdiscipline of figure skating. But we really enjoyed
it right away. We had a surprising
amount of success not really knowing what ice
dance was early on, which we also really enjoyed. And we were like,
oh, this is fun. CHARLIE WHITE: Don’t
sugarcoat it, Meryl. We like winning. MERYL DAVIS: Yeah, great. But, yeah, we honestly– we just really liked
what was happening, and we kind of stuck with
it for over 20 years. Do you have anything
to add to that? CHARLIE WHITE: I
think I added enough. SPEAKER: Was there a point
in which you got like, we are really good. We are going to be competitive. We can be Olympians in this. CHARLIE WHITE: First of
all, I was just like– we’ve told this
story so many times. And I just– it’s true. We didn’t know what
we were getting into. And I just think
how absurd it is. Like people that
get into skiing, it’s you learn how
to ski, and then you just go down a mountain. You know, it’s like there’s no– ice dance, it’s
kind of confusing. I don’t know. And so it might sound weird
that we got into doing something when we were eight. We were just– our parents
didn’t know what it was. We didn’t really know. We’re just dancing in the dance
hold with someone that’s like, we– we’re very young and immature. And so a lot of our
success was sort of just being in the right
place at the right time, finding a partner that
we could obviously– the physical
qualities necessary, the height difference, the size. Its being at the
same rink, having parents who teach sort
of a similar philosophy on how to get along
with other people. All these things
just fell into place. We didn’t have to work for that. But we did have to work really
hard for everything else. And so we, little by
little, worked our way up through the ranks
starting at eight. And really like
our first year, we went to the national
championships. And again, we were
like, what is happening? And then we got second. And then the next year,
we moved up a level. And we won. And then we started to run into
some difficulties because we were 11, and we’re
competing against 16- and 17-year-olds in a sport that
requires artistry and like– MERYL DAVIS: Romance. CHARLIE WHITE: –romance
and relationship. And we’re just like– um. Technically, we were
very good skaters. We worked really hard. We liked working hard. It was practice was fun for us. But that was sort of
the first real challenge was just it was disheartening
because the judges were like, you don’t belong on the ice
with this high school senior. And but we enjoyed it enough
that we pushed through. And so by the time we
were 16, 17 ourselves– also, I should mention
that at our rink we had the coach that sort of
started all of the US ice dance success. We hadn’t had much success
in the sport of ice dancing. I know you guys are
all nodding along. You already know this. But in the early ’90s– and he was a Russian coach. He came to the Detroit skating
club, and started his program, and started building it. We didn’t have him as our coach. But all the best American
ice dancers were on the ice with us, so we were just
watching them every day. And so that was
hugely inspirational and also showed us that
they’re working hard, but they’re not doing anything
totally insane off the wall. They’re just working hard,
and they did it consistently. And they had high
expectations, but they were able to reach
them through effort and through perseverance. And I think that was
really important to us. And then they started
going to the Olympics. And we were at the
rink with them, and we knew they were
going to the Olympics. And we knew them, and they
would talk to us sometimes. And it would like
blow our minds, but it really made
it real for us. And by the time we
were 18, we did end up working with this coach, Igor
Shpilband, and another coach, Marina Zoueva. And by then, it was like we were
friends with the people that were going to the Olympics
and getting close to being able to compete against them. And we thought, we
just need to keep doing what we’re doing, essentially. We didn’t have to do
anything too crazy, and it was just a
step-by-step process. But part– the reason why it was
a step-by-step process for us is just a lot of the
things had sort of lined up, being in the
hotbed for US ice dancing. We just were really
lucky to have that, and to have the support of
our parents, and each other, and I think all
those things made the Olympics really tangible. And it would be a wildly
different experience if you had any other ice
dance team up here talking about their route. SPEAKER: Yeah. And during that early time,
was there a driving force? Was it like, OK, we’re competing
against high schoolers. That was really hard. Meryl, were you like, we
need to go practice tomorrow? Or was it your parents, like
we’ll set a place, time? Or– MERYL DAVIS: Sure. Great question. One of the things
we’ve sort of mentioned is how fortunate we got
and how lucky we were. I mean, Charlie and I
grew up eight minutes down the road from– our parents
still live eight minutes away from each other,
which is insane. Because most of the people we
were competing against either had to move away from
their families in Arizona when they were 13, and live
in someone else’s house, and grew– like,
these people were going through real hardships
to make their ice dancing or figure skating
dreams a reality. We graduated with our
high school classes. We had the world’s best ice
dance coaches in our backyard. And our parents
were always there with us, which wasn’t the case
for a lot of our competitors and people we were
training with. And so it’s hard when
you’re eight and nine to have the habits and have
the discipline that you need to be an Olympic athlete. Right? And so the fact
that Charlie and I had these not just amazing
parents on both sides but parents who really had very
similar perspectives on how they wanted to
raise their kids– like Charlie’s parents
and my parents said, no. You’re going to prioritize high
school through high school. After that, it’s your call. But you’re not– we’re not
withdrawing you from school. You’re not going half time. And just sort of
that perspective of both sets of parents
having a similar philosophy on not just raising
athletes but raising people was incredibly helpful for us. And then in addition to
that, I think in large part because of what I was
saying with our parents, but Charlie and I
also sort of just developed a mutual
understanding of what we wanted. And it wasn’t always
to win the Olympics. It wasn’t always the
medals and the accolades, which were always fun. But we just really enjoyed
getting better all the time. And whether it was a huge
stride and a huge step forward or a really
small step forward, I think, actually
both individually, we really just got excited
about coming into the rink and being able to
do something that we couldn’t do the day
before or the week before. And I think we’ve had so many
different things contribute to our success over the years. But as Charlie alluded to,
we loved practicing and just that feeling of getting better
and improving bit by bit. And so I think
that’s probably one of the things that contributed
most to our success. And like you said, did you ever
say like, well, we’re competing against high schoolers. What’s next? And I think, as Charlie said,
it wasn’t really until the 2006 Olympics, watching our friends
on TV, people we were training with every day competing
at the games, we were like, oh, my goodness, this
could be us in four years. And I think, for me, that
was the first time it really dawned on me, at least, that
that was a real possibility. And just sort of the beauty of
taking it one step at a time is something that I think
served us very well. SPEAKER: Yeah. So I’m curious. You had that moment, and you
think like, this could be us. Did anything change? Or what’s the process,
either physical or mental, in order to be best in the world
at a very difficult activity, sport? CHARLIE WHITE: Yeah. We’re just not going
to tell you the secret. [LAUGHTER] It’s going to cost you. No. I think the secret is
that there’s no secret, and everyone
basically knows that. And it’s both cool and kind
of sucky at the same time. It might make me
feel better if there was some secret that we had. But there isn’t. And I think, so, through high
school, we went full time. And I played hockey. And we did a lot of
other extracurriculars. And we were successful
ice dancers, but we were– it was just a part
of what we did. And so then when
we graduated, we deferred a year from
University of Michigan and just dedicated
ourselves to ice dancing. And that was– it was
really good for our skating, but it was a really
challenging year personally. I think both of us
realized how much we needed to be something besides just
machines working on ice dancing move technique to
stay sane, kind of. And so we had to learn. The whole process was really
how we learned about ourselves and how we learned how to deal
with difficult situations. And we were talking about
goal setting and earlier before this. And you can’t skip steps. And we didn’t, and
we didn’t try to. But we went at everything
in the right order. And again, it was
the people that were around us that were helping us. And there’s a lesson in that. I try not to look at the
camera– but for effect. I’ve always had a little
Ferris Bueller in me. You know? And we had a passion
for the sport. I don’t know what
that means still. I don’t know why
necessarily, other than it was like it was kind of fun,
and we enjoyed, like Meryl said, getting better. But the idea of
passion is still– it’s kind of slippery. Because I explain this
to kids who are talking– they want to know what they
need to do to win the Olympics. And I’m like, well, are you
passionate about the sport? And they’re like, I don’t know. And I’m like, me neither. I don’t– what
does it mean, even? Like, do like doing it? They’re like, sometimes. And I’m like, yeah,
keep doing it then. [LAUGHS] It’s not helpful. And so, basically, I want
to answer your question. But I also want to
say, what’s interesting for us is that we don’t
have all the answers, even though we’ve
experienced it in real time and have now had even more
time to try to gain perspective on what it means. And so, anyway, yeah,
so back to reality. We graduated high school
and dedicated ourselves to the sport of ice dancing. I stopped playing hockey. We stopped doing
everything else. And it was challenging, but
we made significant strides. And our first year
in the senior levels, we got seventh place at
the World Championships, which was kind of a big deal. Up until then, American teams
had really only ever gotten like 13th, 14th, or
lower their first year at the World Championships. And you had to just kind
of work your way up slowly. And our first year,
we were all ready– it felt like there was a
pressure, like we were destined to have some more
success and that there was some sort of belief
in our level, or talent, or whatever it was that we
were bringing to the ice that I think it gave us
confidence when we really needed it. Because we were
competing against people that we had seen
win Olympic medals, my wife included, which is
a complicated and different story. [LAUGHS] But we needed the
confidence of having that. But it was also suddenly a
tremendous amount of pressure. And we went to
these competitions with full-grown adults,
and it’s their job. And we’re like coming
off of high school. And it’s like, we have
fun doing ice dancing. And it’s how they make money. It’s how they make their living. They have families. And we’re out on
the ice with them. And you can see it in their
eyes what it means to them. It’s not just a game. It’s their whole life. And so we had to deal with that. Is that what we wanted? Is that how we
wanted to progress? And in some ways, yes. In some ways, no. But everyone sort of does
it a little differently. But it was hugely
influential in how we continued to approach it. And I think that we’re
good-humored people. And so we were able to– we’re able to laugh at ourselves
and even at training, at the– at figure skating. But how serious we were
about what we were doing increased, and so
the time we spent at the rink was more serious– and then how we thought
about skating outside of the rink, what
we were eating, how we were sleeping, everything. Once you are 22, 23, your body’s
like, OK, take it easy, man. And so you have to be smart. And we had to work harder
than everyone else, and we had to be smarter
than everyone else. And we’ll get to this
or not, whatever. We weren’t the most talented. There’s a lot of really
talented people in the world. And that was something
that we realized too is there are people that we’re
training with every day that are more talented than we are. So how– and we can
make the Olympics. But maybe we want to win. What do we– how’s
that going to happen with these people around us? So, yeah, I don’t
know, I did, I guess. But– [LAUGHTER] SPEAKER: I think one of
you mentioned the machine of preparing for the Olympics. How much during that time
did you feel like a machine? And you go to the ice this time. You eat this meal for lunch. MERYL DAVIS: Sure. SPEAKER: And you sleep
for this many hours. And if you get 15 minutes
less, you’re screwed. Like what– CHARLIE WHITE: Oh. SPEAKER: How much pressure? MERYL DAVIS: Yeah, oh my god. I’m having– CHARLIE WHITE: Flashbacks. MERYL DAVIS: –flashbacks, yeah. It’s interesting. Because I think, with
your previous question, it’s a great segue
because moving in 2006 to a new rink, a
new coaching team, coming out of high
school, starting sort of this new regimen,
watching the 2006 Winter Olympics, everything sort of
all happened at once going from being figure
skaters, if that makes sense, to being elite athletes. And that’s not saying
that all figure skaters aren’t an elite
athletes because it is the case. And yet we really took it up
to a totally different sort of echelon in 2006. And it was like we wake up at
6:00, eat your almond butter toast, and come to the rink,
skate for four and a half, five hours after warming
up, take a little break, eat a little bit, go to the
gym for an hour and a half, take a little break, do a
little bit of ballet, go home. In the early years,
we were still going– taking classes on campus. And so we would go to class
for probably like three hours a day, go home, do schoolwork. I was in a sorority, so
sometimes I was doing that. And, man, the things you can
do when you’re 19 years old, it’s pretty crazy. But, yeah, I guess to
answer your second question, because I know I’m kind of
merging the two, we just– we had such an epic
team around us. And we, I think,
despite the fact that we’ve grown in our level
of appreciation becoming adults, I think we were always
really appreciative of the opportunity, knowing
that not everyone had the opportunities that we had. And so if we were on the
ice, until we were getting to a place where we were
making money skating, our parents were paying
for ice skating lessons. And that’s not the
case for everyone. A lot of people are
training part of the day. They’re coaching the second
half of the day and late into the night so that they can
afford to pay for their lessons the next day. And then maybe they’re waiting
tables at night because they have to– it’s the– they haven’t really– or they
can’t pay all their bills. And it’s like, wow. When we see stuff
like that, we realize how incredibly
fortunate we were. And so the combination
of just that perspective, and enjoying it, and
getting a lot of pleasure out of the work and the
progress is just we never really looked back. And I think one of the questions
we get most often, especially from young skaters, it’s very
typical to, for a young skater, to say, I’m feeling a
little bit discouraged. Did you ever want to quit? Like, how did you
deal with that? And I don’t want to
put words in your mouth because maybe you
feel differently. But I can honestly
say there was never a day until after we won the
Olympics that I would consider quitting or stopping. There was a day
where I was like, oh, I wish I could
snooze three more times, or I wish we were starting
at 8:30 instead of 6:30, or whatever it was. But we were just so
lucky to find something we loved so much
at such a young age that there really was just
never a day that I thought, I can’t do this anymore. SPEAKER: Mhm. I’m curious. So at Google, we spend a lot
of time working in teams. I don’t know if you have
anything to add, Charlie. CHARLIE WHITE: I’m sure
I’ll work it in later. SPEAKER: And you mentioned
having a common goal as really big. And I’m curious how else
your partnership and teamwork play together, if you utilize
each other’s strengths. Is there certain ways that
maybe every now and then you had a dispute that
you would resolve? But I imagine the
intensity is quite high. And so what does that
partnership look like? What have you learned? Maybe what are some of the
things we can take away? CHARLIE WHITE: Yeah. Well, first of all, I think we
both have the right disposition for whatever this is. We’re like
family-slash-coworkers. And yeah, of course,
with all of the time we spent on the ice
and the pressure of trying to become the
first-ever Americans to win the Olympics, and there’s
some external pressure. But of course, we want that. And we’re different
people, and we come from different backgrounds. And so we have different– we
had sometimes different visions of how to achieve that. And again, there’s no
right or easy answer. It’s being mindful of
the people in your life. And our parents showed
us how to do that. And we recognize
that we were trying to get to the same place. And it wasn’t by sitting
down and having meetings, which, sorry, I know you
guys have to do that. We didn’t really do that. We didn’t sit and say, listen,
this is what I’m thinking. This is what I’m planning. This is where we want to get to. This is where we are. We showed each other
every single day by what we did on the ice and
how we’d handle ourselves. And so it’s like,
you are what you do. Right? And it’s like we want
to say the right things. And we want to say the
thing that other people want to hear all the time. And I’m speaking
more broadly now. But it’s only through action
that we define ourselves in, at least, others’ eyes. And that’s what we had. That’s what we had
to learn growing up, that it didn’t matter what
you say, it’s what you do. And through that, a trust and
a respect just grows and grows. And you can get
away with being kind of annoying some days
because you’ve built up a foundation that
can’t be cracked by a disagreement, or
an argument, or just a difference of opinion,
like a difference of opinion in the face of, what,
10 years of hard work, and sacrifice, and a willingness
to put the other person first. And also, we were
both smart about how we presented our
own challenging ideas. And that just speaks
to the mindfulness, having other people at the
forefront of your mind. And of course, that’s
also a huge challenge when you’re young and coming up. And yeah, we weren’t
always perfect. And yes, sometimes
we disagreed, and it wasn’t resolved instantly
or didn’t just dissolve into hard work and then
“Rocky” music plays. And we just get back to–
it was hard sometimes. It was really hard. And that’s OK. And I think one of the things
that we’re learning now is that was the point. That relationship,
those lessons, having to be mindful of another
person in a close relationship, that’s bigger than the gold
medal, which is it’s weird. Because I almost
feel like it’s sort of sacrilegious to say that
because it’s a national pride thing. It’s the first ever. It’s the Olympics. It’s everyone sees it. But at the end of the
day, you walk away with a piece of metal. And it’s not going to change
fundamentally in any way who you are or the way
that you see the world. It’s not– your
habits are not going to shift like that because you
have a shiny piece of metal. And so what I’m grateful for and
what the Olympics and skating brought into my life
were the abilities to deal with ridiculous,
crazy, stressful situations, to learn how to manage myself
in a close relationship. That’s what makes
it sort of worth it. And we’ve sort of hinted
at some of the difficulties along the way. Overall, we were
crazy, crazy lucky. And so it’s like there’s some
weird guilt that’s associated with how lucky we were. Because you’re standing
on the podium, and you look to the left and right. And you’re like, these people
worked just as hard as I did– I mean, maybe not quite
as hard, but close. And yet I’m here on the top. And I think too what’s
interesting is both of us come from a background of– preaches equality. And so the concept of the
Olympics and of medals is like, you’re better than
this other person. And I think most people,
when you’re being reasonable, you talk it through. And you’re like, well,
no, you’re better at ice dancing than they are. But the whole, the
size of the thing, it diverts from what’s reasonable. And I think what I
appreciate is that we have a grounding
in reality where you can respect your
competitors and yourself through competition and learn
about yourself without walking away thinking that you’re owed
something because you also have a piece of metal. And I’m going to stop referring
it to a “piece of metal” now because it is special. It is special in my heart. We had to work really
hard to earn that. But now we’re people. You know? And what it represents
is so much bigger than just some amount
of time that we spent on the ice or all
of the amount of time that we spent on the ice. But it’s given us
a good platform to be, to live, to live. That was the ending sentence. MERYL DAVIS: I’m going to
hand you this bottle of water. SPEAKER: So speaking about
Sochi, you’re getting ready. What does the choreograph,
the design, the costumes, what does that look like? How do you go about deciding? Charlie, you
recommending AC/DC songs and your coach has
something else in mind. MERYL DAVIS: Yeah. Wow. Yeah, again, kind of
flashback– so complicated. The music that you
pick, it just feels like it’s the end of the world
if you pick the wrong music. And I think that’s one
of the interesting things about stepping outside
of the world of sport. Because I think it’s
hard to find two bigger fans of the world
of sport and what it can do for the world,
and people, and the lessons it can teach you. But of course, as a former
competitive athlete where the things that you
eat, as we said, and the what time you go to bed,
and the quality of your pillow, and everything, just
everything matters so much. And then, as Charlie said,
becoming just a person and be like, hm, it matters
a little bit less today than it did yesterday. And like the music, for
example, the amount of time we stressed over, do
we pick this song, or do we pick that song? And it did pay off, and
it was hugely important. And yet now, years later
looking back on it, it’s like, wow, we– but another great lesson. We put our heads down, and we
focused on every last detail. And that’s what it
takes to be successful. Right? Like in anything
you do, you have to be that super, hyper-crazy
focused on the goal or the task at hand in order
to be successful at it. And having stepped
away from it, I think we have more appreciation
of just how focused we were and the lives that we lived. And even though it’s sacrifice,
we were going to bed early, and we weren’t going to parties,
and we were doing these things, and it could sort of
fall under sacrifice, but it never felt like
a sacrifice to us. We just– we loved it. And I think that’s something
that’s really great for us to understand moving
forward in our lives. And whatever our
future careers hold or whatever our next goals
or aspirations might be, I think it’s really
important for us to remember the hours we
spent with our dressmaker. Like, is it purple,
or is it lavender? I don’t know. Let’s explore these options. Or do we really need this
10 seconds of the song? And can we change it? And can we have a
composer compose something that’s slightly different so
it sounds slightly better? It is– it was a lot. And I’m sure a lot of you guys
can relate with what you do, and the level of
detail has to be– you’ll look back, and
you’re like, that was crazy. [LAUGHTER] But it leads to great
things and success. SPEAKER: So thinking about
that focus, so we talked about earlier, while
we were having lunch, just transitioning from being
hyper-focused, sole goal ice skating to life after
that competition. How do you bring that
focus to current life? Are you stressing over
how long the curtains should be in the house,
if it’s lavender or not? MERYL DAVIS: No. SPEAKER: What does
that look like? Is there something
you’re like now that has a similar focus that you do? Or have you found different
ways to go about being human? CHARLIE WHITE: That’s
a great question. I think, for me, my
focus has been on sort of like what I was talking about
in my last rambling answer, which is, what does
it all mean, man? You know, like– which I find
endlessly fascinating and also incredibly concerning
when I look at the way things are
done, generally speaking, in most areas of life. And I think it’s one
of those things where it’s like you have
to experience what we experienced to just to
have whatever mindset I have. And in some ways, it’s
helpful because it– the focus that
you’re talking about, you can let it dissipate to
a degree, but it’s also– it’s such a habit. You trained it. It’s always kind of in
the back of your mind. And anytime you turn
your focus to something, it has a tendency to go whoosh. And so I’m lucky that, for me,
that’s been my wife and my son. And I think that was
something that I really had to prioritize. Because I want to say,
95% of Olympic athletes have to be like
incredibly selfish. It’s just– it’s
part of the game. There are varying
degrees, and I like to think that we were as
reasonable as you could be. But you have to make
it about yourself, about getting to sleep,
about the meal, when, why, not going to
functions because you have to train early the next
morning, and stuff like that. And so sort of taking a step
back and looking at our impact on our families and our
friends, and we’re kind of like taking all of their energy,
not sending a whole lot back. And so I think for both of us– and this I am going to just
put words in your mouth because I know it’s true– I think that being able to
focus on the relationships in our lives and
being able to enjoy– focus on enjoying– like
what does enjoyment mean? What does it look like for us? And what’s scary,
I think, sometimes is that we don’t have
a quick answer for that in a lot of different areas. But I don’t think
a lot of people do. And it’s like we’re forced
to ask these questions because we’re just– we’re like– we were
27-year-old retirees. And we’re just like, what now? And so, yeah, it’s a lot. It was a lot of really
difficult questions that we had to ask ourselves. And this is where I
get back to everything that we went through. And it’s like, I know
I’ll be OK because I’ve been through insane things. And sometimes it’s OK that the
answer isn’t immediate or maybe even possible to comprehend. I think our being able to
work towards fulfillment– and we did that in skating. We were fulfilled. We left it all out on the ice
in practice and in competition. And it paid off
with a gold medal. But if we had been
last, we would have been fulfilled because we
did everything that we could. And I think that,
ultimately, we just have to– we have to be smart about
what we’re leaving it all out on the ice for. And I think that, so
far, we’ve been luckier than a lot of other
Olympic athletes, who it’s just– it’s hard. It’s really hard to
figure out what life is. And so it’s been equal
parts like fun challenge and like just
challenge-challenge. I don’t know, like
not always great. But I think too
one of the things that I’m grateful for is that
we’ve had another person that’s like, you’re experiencing
essentially the same thing I am. And though we have different
lenses, it’s like, we’re OK– and to just continue
to grow and still have moments even like this. Or we’re going to
Japan for a show next week where it’s like we
just check in, and it’s like, OK, yeah, we’re moving sort
of in the right direction probably. AUDIENCE: [INAUDIBLE] CHARLIE WHITE: You’ll
be the judge of that. We’re going to– you all
are going to hold up checks or crosses at the end. Just like, these
people, they’re– no. You’re– [LAUGHS] But, no. I think, yeah, to not answer
any of your questions, that’s all I have to say. MERYL DAVIS: Give me that. SPEAKER: Yeah, so you have found
some other passions in life post. You’re still ice dancing. You’ve been doing
some volunteer work. What are some of
those other passions? I think you’ve been doing
some commentary now. Talk a little bit
about those that– MERYL DAVIS: Sure. Well, luckily, we have
a lot of other passions. It’s difficult to
channel it into a career. And so I think in taking
fulfillment, and happiness, and setting goals
into account, I think that’s one of the biggest
challenges as an athlete moving into sort of like a
different phase of life. It’s not hard to be happy
and find joy in our families, and volunteering, and working
with these incredible programs, and passing on our experiences,
and knowledge, and the lessons we’ve learned in sport. We work with a
number of programs that do wonderful
things using sport as a tool to teach young people
these lessons, like set a goal. It’s not always
going to be easy. You’re going to fail
probably many times. That’s OK. It might be though the
1,000-and-first time that it goes well. And that’s totally OK– and it’s getting to express
those really impactful, meaningful things,
especially to young people, something we both really enjoy. And yet I think from
a career perspective– because, as I’m sure you’ve all
gathered, all of the challenges were very feasible to us
because we loved what we did. And we never felt as though
all of the work was– sure, it was hard. But it was never a sacrifice
we weren’t willing to make. And I think we recognized
through our challenges and success– and especially because,
as Charlie said, we were not the most
talented people– you can make anything
happen if you’re passionate enough and
willing to put in the work that it takes to get there. And so I think as an
athlete moving away from a sport we knew we
loved when we were five, I think the biggest challenge is
finding that thing that you’re so passionate
about that you know you’re willing to
do whatever it takes to make your dreams a reality
or to make your goals happen. But, yeah, just finding
fulfillment in different ways– I mean, Charlie’s a dad,
and I’m sure he’ll talk more about that– but spending
more time with our families is a huge part of that. And not being able to
make aunts’ birthday parties, or a friend’s
sleepover when we were younger, or whatever it is, was
just a part of our lives. And now getting to
say, you know what? No, I can come for
that weekend, is we take a lot of joy and
pleasure in that now. SPEAKER: Awesome. Speaking about
fatherhood, you talked about how you have that mental. In your mind, you have
that thought process. How do you think about trying
to teach that to your son? And do you want him to have
that experience somehow? And how do you– I know he’s still young. But have you thought
about how you want him to develop that
similar type of habit, that process experience? CHARLIE WHITE: Yeah, yeah. I think it’s sort of–
it’s baked into how I think about everything now. And it’s like, how? OK, this is an interesting thing
that I like to think about. But how am I going to help
contextualize this subject for my son, and have him be able
to interpret it, and use it, and healthily? And part of it is I have to– I constantly have
to remind myself, though we share a first name,
I don’t want him to be me. I want him to be better than me. That’s the most important thing. And so I have to be smarter
than what I have been so far to help prepare him for that. And him being better
than me has nothing to do, obviously, with his– he’s not probably
going to hopeful– I’m actually crossing
my fingers he doesn’t want to figure skate. It was– I know too much. I’m hoping like
chess club, honestly. [LAUGHTER] I’m really not– I’m laughing, but
I’m not joking. [LAUGHS] No. But I think, again, just like
we talk about the lessons we’ve learned, and a lot of
people go through things, and just don’t– they don’t want to look back
at it, for better or worse. And I get that. But it’s sort of like
how– it’s cliche. But it’s like, you only lose if
you just leave it behind you. If you can take a
lesson away from it, how can you consider
that losing? And the only reason that
we became who we became was by messing up a lot. And I try not to mess
up a lot with my son. But I do, of course. And so part of it is how
I show that it’s OK for me to mess up to him,
that it’s like I don’t have to be some paragon
of perfection that I think could be– that I could see being
a trap for myself. And I think maybe
for a lot of parents, it’s just like you want to
just be perfect all the time. And I’ve experienced
the downside of that in competitive skating,
and it didn’t work out. You try to be perfect,
and you’ll definitely make more mistakes. And you’ll be blinded
to it because you have to– when you think
of yourself as perfect, you have to have
like a weird pride thing that comes along with it. [SIGHS] I don’t know, man. It’s– SPEAKER: It’s tough. CHARLIE WHITE: Fatherhood is– it’s equally the hardest
and best thing so far that I’ve experienced. And I’m not pushing
children on anyone, like it’s totally, whatever
you think is reasonable. But I will say, it’s awesome. SPEAKER: It’s awesome. CHARLIE WHITE: And
again, it’s just like I do think
how grateful I am to have had the experiences
that I’ve had, traveled, seen different people,
and the effects of, especially in a tough sport,
the effects of poor parenting on incredible,
talented young people who aren’t able to achieve their
dreams because they weren’t given the psychological
foundation that they needed, and how incredibly
depressing that is to see. And for me to look
at my son and be like, how could
anyone sort of just take this relationship
for granted? It blows my mind. And so that’s something
I’m really aware of too. It’s just like– and helping
finding a way, I guess, to propagate that in him,
that same sort of just– again, I think it’s just
mindfulness, just having an awareness of others
and the difficulties inherent in society, I guess. I don’t know. Again, it’s like
there’s nothing easy. And I think maybe the
problem is that we’re having this conversation
like five years too early. I would love to just come down
and just say like, this is it, guys. Like, I know. But I also will admit that
it’s kind of the fun part. And the experiencing,
re-experiencing the world with him has been
really interesting. SPEAKER: Great. One final question. So take yourselves
back to Sochi. You’re in the lead. And you just completed
your long form. It was flawless. At that moment, did you
know you won the gold? What were you feeling? Or do you– or is it
all just a big blur? MERYL DAVIS: Yeah. So Charlie and l, I think,
had been completely undefeated in two years. CHARLIE WHITE: Tell him
how nervous we were first. MERYL DAVIS: OK. Well, we were terrified. I think– [LAUGHTER] I remember– well, I think
it’s important to contextualize first. Right? CHARLIE WHITE:
Let’s contextualize. MERYL DAVIS: Let’s
contextualize. So Charlie and I– [LAUGHS] how much
time do we have? You guys have lots of
work to do, I’m sure. We got second in
Vancouver in 2010. That was our first
Olympic games, like the best
experience in every way. We were terrified. But other than just representing
our country and our families well, there wasn’t
a lot on the line. We didn’t feel a lot of pressure
to be anything other than what we were. And once you get an
Olympic silver medal, there are two ways to go– up or down. And it’s really,
really hard to go up. Right? And so leaving Vancouver,
we very briefly, for the first time really, OK,
are we going to keep going? We have this Olympic
silver medal. That’s awesome. We could leave now,
and go be real people, and have this Olympic silver
medal, and that would be great. And we were like,
no, no, no, no. We have to keep going. We have to do this. And we put our heads
down, and I don’t think they came up
until like six months after the 2014 Olympics. We were so insanely
focused every single day for those years. I think we lost two competitions
over the course of the four years. We were undefeated
for the two years leading into the 2014 Olympics. And I think it was probably
like October of 2013. So we were already
ramping up for the games. But it was a ways away. And I just remember thinking,
if I am this nervous now, I do not know how
we’re going to be able to do this because
there is so much on the line. We were in a great place. We had done everything
imaginable to put ourselves in the best position possible
to perform at our very best, and not just
us but our families. Our families were supporting
us, and there for us, and talking us through
the difficulties. And our coaches were
doing these things. And our friends would call us
and be like, how are you doing? You feeling good? You getting enough sleep? We had just the most
epic community of people around us supporting
us constantly. And so we were terrified. And before we went to Sochi,
Charlie and I were both sort of feeling– and I think
we shared at some point– we were both feeling like, if
we run away, can anyone find us? Like if we just avoid
this whole situation, and run into the woods,
like somewhere in Russia, maybe we’ll never be found,
and we’ll never actually have to live this
moment where it like– it all comes down to this. CHARLIE WHITE:
There was an exit. Sorry. MERYL DAVIS: Yeah. CHARLIE WHITE: There
was an exit sign. And I was thinking like– we were waiting
backstage for our names to be called to go compete. Thanks for holding the mic. And I just remember
thinking, like really thinking it was reasonable
for me to just walk out and to just– and that like, ultimately,
you know it would be OK. But I just was like, I
cannot handle this pressure. MERYL DAVIS: Yeah. And figure skating, if you
make any mistake, especially in ice dance, it is over. If someone’s bobby pin
falls, the skater before you, if their hairpin falls on
the ice, and you step on it, and you slip and fall, which is
very real thing that happens, your 20 years of
preparation is over. Right? It’s crazy. CHARLIE WHITE: Ah! MERYL DAVIS: And, yeah. And especially because
we had so much momentum, and it was going so
well, we’re like, what if– and I don’t think
we had made a mis– like we very rarely made
mistakes because we prioritized our training. And we had to be that way
because, like we said, we weren’t the most talented. And so our consistency
and our preparation had to be what we relied on. And so we were like,
well, what if it’s now? What if now is the time
where we make a mistake? And anyway, so to answer
your question– we could talk about this for hours. And maybe there is a
former psychologist in the room or something. We could– CHARLIE WHITE: [INAUDIBLE] MERYL DAVIS: –yeah, add some
color commentary to this. But I, ultimately–
let’s look at it from the other
side for a second. We were so incredibly prepared,
I think over the years, over the– and the insane amount of
mistakes, we learned probably the most important
thing was nothing can replace hard
work and preparation. And by the time Charlie
and I showed up for Sochi, we literally could have
closed our eyes, like we– it just was so in our
bodies, and our minds, and our everything that– I don’t want to say there’s no
way it could have gone wrong because, as I’ve explained,
there are many ways it could have gone wrong. But every single
day in practice, we performed like we were
competing at the Olympic games. And that was the
only way we were able to deal with the pressure
both internally and externally. We had a lot of sponsors,
which was amazing, and just these people
were depending on us. And we thought, we
are so ready for this. We have done, for the last
realistically 20 years, everything that we need
to do to get to the point where we can perform the
way we need to perform. And to answer your question– as
we’re horrible at, apparently– when we finished our final
performance in Sochi, even though, obviously,
winning the Olympics is great, and we are so glad we did– CHARLIE WHITE:
[INAUDIBLE] talk about it. MERYL DAVIS: Yeah,
it’s like we recognized that we had done everything. We could not have done
anything differently. We couldn’t have been
better than we were. And we couldn’t have been
better than we were– and just sheer
happiness and relief that the part that
we could control, we took responsibility
for it, not just there, not just like six
months before the games, not just like a year
before the games, but we took that responsibility,
and we took it very seriously. And I think standing
there on the ice, we were just so proud of that,
the way that we approached it and the way we approached
it together as a team. That just meant so much. And the medal’s awesome. But standing there
and just being proud of everything we
did to get there was definitely the best part. SPEAKER: Awesome. AUDIENCE: Hey. First of all, thank
you both for coming. This was an awesome talk. And you’re both so
lively and hilarious. So that’s definitely
refreshing, and it’s nice. So you talked a lot
about the difference in how you internally changed
from before the Olympics to after and what that
transition looked like. What would you say was
the biggest difference from an external factor, like
how other people interacted with you, how your
lives changed from like, I’m sure your phone started
blowing up immediately after. What did that process look
like from before and after? CHARLIE WHITE: That’s
a great question. And I think it sort of
speaks to our mindset that we didn’t touch on that. I think our experience with
notoriety, fame of a sort, has been very interesting and
revealing in a lot of ways about the nature of that topic. It would– we surrounded
ourselves with really good people, and we benefited
from that as our name, our brand recognition
grew, shall I say– brand recognition. AUDIENCE: We’re
familiar with that term. CHARLIE WHITE: Yeah, which
is great when you’re Google. But when you’re human,
it can be a little weird. You know? And especially I–
and that’s something that we still deal with, just
the concept and like, what? What is it? But it was both
challenging and, of course, also fun because you
had people telling you that you’re awesome. And that for whatever our– the lizard part of our
brain is like, that’s good. That’s a good thing to
have people tell you that you’re awesome. But at the same time, I
think that we managed. We managed dealing
with that well. We didn’t internalize
it too much but enjoyed the
success that we had. We went on “Dancing
with the Stars.” And yeah, Maryl won. You should clap. [APPLAUSE] She makes me say that. [LAUGHTER] But it was fun because
it was so different. We grew up– I mean, we traveled,
but we’re from Detroit. Right? Like it’s– and so it wasn’t
something that we thought– we hadn’t really thought about. And ice dancing hadn’t
really brought fame into people’s lives very much. And so, yeah, I don’t know. Maybe that was a bad answer. You answer. MERYL DAVIS: No. I mean, pros and
cons to everything. And I think it was definitely
a strange experience to experience the notoriety
following the games. But I think, for
us, we really held on to these really
earnest moments that we had with people
where what we did– and we’re under no pretenses,
like we don’t think that we’re curing cancer. We’re figure skaters. Like, great, we can
relay these lessons. But it’s figure skating, and
it has its great qualities. But over the years– and people
continue to come up to us and say, you know, I always
loved watching figure skating with my mom or my grandmother. And oftentimes, unfortunately,
many of those people have since passed away. And every time I watch
you skate or every time I watch skating, I’m reminded
of this beautiful time I had with my mom, sharing in
this beautiful experience, watching a sport
that we both love. And so I think it’s those
experiences of knowing that you had the opportunity
to, in some way, positively impact
someone else’s life– and we’re not curing
diseases, like I said– but just having a
second of people’s lives and being able to make
it a little bit brighter or creating a memory
is such a huge honor. And now the kids who
were watching us in 2014, when they were whatever they
were, eight years old or– we see them. And they’re teenagers or– math isn’t my strong
suit– but and saying, oh, we loved watching you when
I was a kid growing up. And it inspired me to– dot, dot, dot. And like, wow, not everyone
has that opportunity to inspire other people, or
make them feel a certain way, or create beautiful memories. And it’s not fame. And again, we’re not like
major celebrities by any means. But it has its
drawbacks for sure, and especially as it’s
sort of like being thrust upon you all at once. But I think more
than anything, it’s given us the opportunity
to do good things, and draw attention
to good things, and create even very, very small
beautiful moments in people’s lives. So I think, for us, that’s
really what stands out with that part of our lives. Good question. SPEAKER: And I think that it is
a marvelous way for us to wrap up today, so creating memories. Thank you. MERYL DAVIS: Thank you, guys. [APPLAUSE] Thank you for having us.


  1. Meryl and Charlie are so inspiring and they're so genuine. What great role models. Thank you #talksatgoogle for this wonderful chat with them.

  2. I could listen to them for hours; so much class, intelligence, charm, professionalism…. That pair will always be so special. ❤️

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