Charlie White won 2014 Olympic ice dance gold with partner Meryl Davis. Since then, White has transitioned into commentary work and he talks about the differences in covering versus competing at the Olympics.
Who does he look up to the most in his commentary work? His wife, Tanith, who “outworks everyone” in her figure skating analyst role.
Plus, he shares what points the ice dance competition in PyeongChang is going to come down to.
How much homework do you have every night in preparing for commentary?
A lot. And I think it helps a lot that I’m personally familiar with almost all the figure skaters. In the pressure of the moment, you don’t want to have to rely solely on your memory. I love skating, so it’s a labor of love to go through the numbers and past results. At the same time, I’m learning a lot just from the different biographies and the different stories coming into the Olympics. I think skaters open up a bit coming into the Olympics. It’s a nice opportunity for them to get the recognition that I think they deserve, and so there’s a lot of great information there. I’ve really enjoyed combing through that. You know what’s sad: 95 percent of it is not going to get out into the world through me, but it’s out there anyway, so I think that’s pretty cool.
Do you feel like there’s so much information that you can’t tell every single person’s story?
Yeah. I’m here in different capacities. I’m doing 4K coverage and I’m also doing Olympic Ice – the follow-up show – so there’s more of a chance to sort of break down, during the wrap-up show some of the storylines. But it’s only 30 minutes. Really, we’re going to be hitting on the top three and then the Americans. That leaves, in a field of 24, a lot of people that I don’t necessarily get to talk about except during the 4K coverage and so much of that is really devoted to the context of the competition. It’s very specific to their programs and how well they’re skating, the environment. So, again, a lot of information there that’s compiled, but better to have and not use than vice versa.
Do you get more sleep competing in the Olympics or covering it?
I’ve actually been doing great with sleep. I have a 3-month-old who’s in Korea with Tanith [White], my wife, so I’m used to waking up in the night multiple times. I’m sleeping all the way through. But at the Olympics, you really do your best to get as much sleep as possible. It’s one of the most important things, absolutely. For me especially. But the stress of the whole situation can keep you up at night. And I’m feeling a lot less stress here. I mean, I love the job, but when you’re at the Olympics, it’s a special kind of stress.
How are you dealing with your family spread all over the world?
It’s been hard, especially because my son is so young, so I miss him a lot. And obviously I miss Tanith, but I’ve got to spend time with her. You know, I think FaceTime and Skype and those things, I’m so grateful to have those tools at our disposal.
Does a 3-month-old need a passport?
Yes! He has a little baby passport. And so we’ve been able to keep in touch, but at the same time, schedules are so busy you know it’s sort of hard to sync up. Honestly, she’s like superwoman over there, just like doing everything. So I try not to bother her too much because she’s like running all over freaking Korea doing the pre-show, doing scoring segments, preparing to call the ice dancing, and this is a big deal for her. So I’m just trying to be as supportive as possible.
Do you think your dance commentary’s going to rival hers?
No! (laughs) What I appreciate is that we have different views, and I think that’s interesting. But at the end of the day, I think we probably will come down in the same way with the skaters and based on how they skate, but how we get there is different. For hard as I work, I think Tanith outworks everyone. She’s more prepared. For as good as she was at figure skating, with an Olympic silver medal [in 2006] and an Olympic fourth place [in 2010], she’s better at this. In a lot of ways, I’ve looked up to her in skating coming up, they’ve – her and Ben [Agosto] – sort of led the way, and I feel the same way in commentary. I think that she is just so professional and goes about it the right way and focuses on the right things. That inspires me to try and match that and keep up with her.
What do you think dance is going to come down to?
Obviously, no one can predict. It’s so close. It feels like a coin flip, but instead of luck it’s going to be focus. Tessa [Virtue] and Scott [Moir, from Canada] in my opinion, have the stronger short dance. Gabby [Gabriella Papadakis] and Guillaume [Cizeron, from France] have the stronger free dance, and it’s whomever can play their strength greater without making a mistake. You cannot make a mistake. That to me was what kept me up at night. In ice dancing, it’s just like, if you make a mistake, it’s done.
Obviously, Tessa and Scott have experience on their side. I think that could make a big difference.
Looking at the American teams, I think there’s three great teams there that can really vie for a bronze medal. I think the Shibs [Maia and Alex Shibutani], the “Shib Sibs,” they have the advantage in the short dance. Honestly, I think they have the best choreography and the best aura in the short dance. In the free dance, I think they’re still trying to sort of find their groove. So, this is it. I mean, they had the team event, and it was good, but it didn’t blow my socks off.
It’s tough competition with Madison [Chock] and Evan [Bates] and Madison [Hubbell] and Zach [Donohue]. They’re going to be on their A-game, and both of them beat the Shibs at nationals in the free dance. Both of them beat the Shibs at the Grand Prix Final in the free dance, so you know, historically speaking, it can go any direction.
I think Madison and Zach probably are a smidge the favorites right now for the bronze, but there’s the question of can they keep their focus all the way through. It’s so sad to have the specter of the world championships last year hanging over them, where they had all but locked up a bronze medal. It is incredible considering they had been multiple national bronze medalists, so to jump from nationals bronze medals to worlds bronze medals would have been huge. It would have set them up just perfectly for these Games, to almost be no question to be in that third spot. With their talent comes that emotion that can lead to some instability. And what you love to see is the emotion, but it’s so hard to control that when the pressure is on. I just want to see everyone skate their best and because that’s the absolute best way for the Olympics to go – and for every competition to go! But especially for the Olympics, where it is easy to make mistakes.
Do you think there’s anything to having a scheduled day off in between short and free dance?
Not really. Maybe for the men it would be nice, where they’re putting their bodies through freaking meat grinders trying to do all these quads. I think it would be appropriate for them to have a day off. For dance, it’s good to just get the short dance out of your system, be able to focus. But at the end of the day, everyone’s in the same boat, so it doesn’t really matter.
Let’s go back to Tessa and Scott. Is there more pressure now that they know their career is coming to an end?
I don’t know. I can’t see into their minds. I would have assumed they would have thought it was coming to an end at the last Olympics. I got that. But think they’re mentally in a very different place. I think they have an approach, an appreciation for, and maybe most importantly, a different perspective on the place of the sport of ice dancing in their lives and what it represents, what it means, and how they have the power to shape the storyline. So I think probably less pressure, I think they’re probably putting less pressure on themselves because they’re not trying to repeat, right? They’re just trying to be themselves. That’s my impression. And again, I haven’t asked them. But we’ll see.
Both the Canadian and French teams train in Montreal, but it’s Tessa and Scott splashed on cereal boxes and in commercials. Could that be part of a mental obstacle for the French?
Along with the experience difference between Tessa and Scott, you know, there might be a few sort of little things here and there that might work in their favor. It’s crazy the way, certainly, the subconscious can absorb your environment and take that with you wherever you go, especially in a sport like ice dancing. Again, your confidence is so important to your portrayal and your ability to skate cleanly. I think that it’s a tough environment for the French to have to deal with the Canadian love-fest for Scott and Tessa, but they’re not unfamiliar with it. I mean, they had to have seen it coming.
Also, I think if they can be tough enough to compartmentalize what that means, I think it actually works to their advantage in terms of being able to generally deal with difficult circumstances. That kind of mental toughness goes with you everywhere. You don’t want to be in a comfortable position. You want to be uncomfortable all the time, because when all is said and done, when you’re at the Olympics, that’s the maximum discomfort, right? And if you’re used to being intimidated, and you’re used to being afraid, and you can perform your best anyway in practice, then at the Olympics, it’s just going to be that much easier.
There seems to be a major love-fest on the internet for Tessa and Scott.
I love how much Canada loves figure skating. That’s great. And the athletes deserve it. Canadian athletes work very hard to be excellent and to represent their country well. But I think, sort of like with Michelle Kwan, right? Sustained excellence is just the number one thing that people fall in love with.
I think everyone sort of, in some way understands just how hard it is. And Scott and Tessa are already in the books as one of the greatest ice dance teams of all time. If they can win these Olympics, will have maybe given themselves an even better argument. And I’m not the one to decide who is the greatest ice dance team of all time. But it’s an interesting conversation to be able to watch live as your country mates are giving themselves that name is super exciting.
Between Scott and Tessa, they have sort of a good sort of balance of Canadian culture in their appearance and their attitude, the way that they approach work and interviews. They’re attractive people, they’re funny. There’s really no reason not to like them, and so it’s the perfect storm. Their career speaks for itself, and they’re the greatest chance in figure skating for the gold [for Canada] besides the team event. I think everyone’s still getting on board with the significance in a medal in the team event, that’s kind of coming around. And this year, Canada went all out in trying to win gold, but it still doesn’t quite stack up in terms of the individual.
Can you explain to me how a guy in ice dance doesn’t have thigh cuts every time he does a lift?
As long as the girl doesn’t slide off or kind of like skid when she steps up, then it’s ok. But I can tell you it still gets cut a lot. And it’s not cool. But it’s just one of those things. In every sport, there’s something where it’s just like “how do you make it through that?” You’re like “you grit your teeth and it’s part of the sacrifice.”
What happens to all the gear you get after team processing? Do you just have closets full of stuff?
You’ve got to know not to bring too much stuff with you to the Olympics because you’re going to be pretty much outfitted with all of the team stuff. So yeah, some of it you just ship home because you can’t even handle that much stuff. But it’s like the greatest feeling when you get it all and you’re like “I earned this! Team USA!” So yeah, you try to wear as much as you can, but it’s a lot of stuff.
You’ve put your political Twitter on hold for now, but I wanted to know how you’re so patient with all the responses, both good and bad.
I try to have a sense of humor about everything, you know? There’s a couple of ways you can take bullying or insults or people trying to troll. I think what you have to do is understand why that person is doing what they’re doing. If you can put yourself in their shoes and sort of see, sort of try to understand why they would need to do that, ultimately what you do is you feel sorry for that person. Something is not okay in their life or something, for whatever reason, they’re so insecure, they don’t have a good perspective, and what that means is they’re not going to be able to live a full life with all of the wonderful things that the world has to offer. This is the kind of thing they focus on. And that’s sad. And so, instead of taking it personally, I recognize that – and everyone should do this – what someone says is a reflection on them 90 percent of the time. No one knows me better than me. No one knows how I’ve gotten to where I am or why I say what I say – whether it be on Twitter or not – better than I do. So I’m not going to let someone who’s in a very sad place in their life in the world shape the way that I think about myself. And I would recommend most people try and do that, too.
You could say the almost same thing for “skating Twitter.”
It’s disappointing to see what little critical thinking goes into how people approach something that is very difficult for the athletes, whether it be appearance or just anything. It really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter. I think that in our culture, we sort of celebrate a certain type of dismissiveness because it means that you’re above whatever it is that you’re dismissing. Ultimately, trying to appear cool – even though it’s 2018 – is still the ultimate motivator of like so many actions, especially on the internet.
Unfortunately, so often, it reveals the true character of people. They don’t understand that. They can get away with that because it’s meme-worthy or it’s something that someone though, but didn’t have maybe the nerve to say because they recognized it was rude. Just seeing someone say it sort of makes you feel like then it’s okay for that to be said, which ultimately degrades the ultimate sort of cultural conversation that we’re trying to have. That’s the downside of the internet.
You have to think about it a lot when you have to deal with it a lot. I wish that people would think about it more because it’s like the dark side, right? It’s so easy to fall into this trap of being quippy and witty and funny. And certainly, I am guilty. And yet at the same time, you have to be able to walk it back and be like, “Okay, I’m dealing with real people even though I can’t see or shake their hand.” And, you know, if more people would do that, if more people were forced to tweet and then go talk face to face to that person, I think the internet would be a lot nicer place to hang out.
Gracie [Gold, 2014 Olympian] said something similar to me once. She said people on Twitter would never make those comments to her face, but they’ll say it on the internet.
You know, Gracie’s just as guilty as I am of being aware of the effects and yet falling into that trap. Gracie in my mind – both of us – we share a similar “say before you think” aspect. And we’ve talked about it. In the same way, we know what it’s like when someone says something like that. I think both of us try to fight our inner quick wit. Some people don’t have the perspective to just be like, “that’s stupid.”
You can’t fight everybody.
You can’t fight everybody. Most people just can’t shut [it] out. Most people are trained to listen to what people say and to internalize it because usually, if people are telling you something, it’s worth listening to. But on the internet, that is not the case. It’s probably the opposite. And so a lot of people struggle with recognizing that difference. And even if they do recognize it, the subconscious still pulls it in, and it’s sad. I mean, it’s just sad. So many people have to put up with just… obnoxious bulls— (laughs).