When Meryl Davis signed up for her Introduction to Anthropology lecture at the University of Michigan in 2007, she knew she would never make it to class.
To attend the lecture, Davis needed to be on the Ann Arbor campus at 11 a.m.
To make it to the Olympics, Davis needed to be at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, Mich., from 7 a.m. to 1 p.m.
In classes without mandatory attendance policies, students can often get away with skipping lectures if they are willing to put in the effort outside of the classroom. But Davis never thought her professor would learn about her success with partner Charlie White on the Grand Prix ice dancing circuit. But around the middle of the semester, when he tried to congratulate her in front of the 250-person lecture hall, the professor learned about her perpetual absence from his class.
"It became such a joke that he played our YouTube videos on the big screen in front of the lecture hall every day," Davis said. "So if I was out [in Ann Arbor] on the weekend, people in my class would be like, 'You're that figure skater that never comes to my anthro class!' "
Such is life for the reigning U.S. national champions, who walk virtually anonymous amid Michigan's 26,000 undergraduate students. "It's hard for a Michigan fan to fit any more sports into their consciousness," White said. "There's no room for a figure skating team."
During the next three weeks, though, the pair will be hard to miss. After winning the 2010 U.S. national championships in Spokane last month, Davis, 23, and White, 22, are favored to medal in Vancouver. The compulsory part of the ice dance competition begins on Feb. 19, and the gold medal will be awarded on Feb. 22.
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Growing up in suburban Detroit, Davis, who graduated from Groves High School in Beverly Hills, and White, who graduated from the Roeper School in Birmingham, had always wanted to be both students and athletes. But four years of attending high school and skating in the afternoons (White also played on his school's ice hockey team and took violin lessons) proved to be exhausting. Before enrolling at Michigan in '06, they decided to follow the lead of most high-level skaters and focus completely on ice dancing.
During their year away from school, the two began working with coaches Igor Shpilband and MarinaZoueva at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, Mich. Davis and White had always been technically strong skaters, but Zoueva taught them to improve the energy and emotion behind their performances. "Until they came to Marina, coaches would tell Charlie, 'We want more expression.' He thought that just meant to put a bigger smile on his face," said Jacqui White, White's mother. "Charlie was like most boys -- he didn't want to look silly or over the top. He didn't know he had to have the expression with his whole body, his whole being."
The year off from college did wonders for their skating development. At the '07 World Championships, Davis and White finished seventh, the highest of any first-year, senior-level U.S. pair since 1980. But it didn't take long for both to realize they longed for a college experience. Their friends were freshmen in college, and the two were sick of just skating and watching television.
"Not going to school gave them an awful lot of free time, and I don't think they were sure how to fill it up," said Jacqui White. "Charlie told me his brain was turning to oatmeal."
In Ann Arbor, Davis and White quickly found a balance between training for the Olympics and living as part-time undergraduate students. Davis, now an anthropology major and Italian minor, and White, who is still undecided, chose not to take classes this semester to concentrate on the Olympics. They generally take four to eight credits per term, and Davis estimates the two will graduate in about two and a half years.