Thursday, 22 May 2014

Jeff Seidel: Busy ice dancer Meryl Davis ready for vacation after another win

It’s finally over.

Meryl Davis has been on a long, continuous, four-month journey that took her from a gold medal at the Winter Olympics to a title Tuesday night on “Dancing With the Stars.”

And on Wednesday afternoon, after flying all night from California to New York City and appearing on a couple of TV shows, Davis took a moment to reflect.

She was exhausted, thrilled, grateful and sleep deprived.

“It’s means so much,” Davis said in a telephone interview. “It’s hard to let it sink in, especially now that ‘Dancing With the Stars’ is over, realizing everything that’s been given to me, everything that has gone on in the last four months has actually happened.
For months, Davis had been focused on winning a gold medal in ice dance with Charlie White.

On winning the Mirror Ball Trophy on “Dancing with the Stars.”

And performing in Stars on Ice, a 20-city tour around the country.

But now, it was all done. Her tone changed and she sounded like somebody who had just reached the finish line and realized she had won everything and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it.

“It’s hard to grasp,” she said. “How can one person possibly be so fortunate?”

She sounded genuinely blown away.

Perhaps she was being modest, but the answer is easy. It’s because she is so driven, talented and worked so hard.

“I’m definitely very grateful for all of these amazing experiences,” she said. “For the last four months now, it’s been amazing.”

After winning “Dancing With the Stars” with pro dancer Maksim Chmerkovskiy, Davis got on a private plane and headed to New York with the other dancers who finished in the top four.

“We literally changed our clothes and got on the plane,” Davis said.

She wore a T-shirt that read: “I love Monday nights.”

She was still wearing that same shirt when she rode through Times Square on a float, although she changed clothes for an appearance on “Good Morning America.”

“Not bad at all,” Davis said. “I’ll take it. It’s pretty exciting for a couple of months.”

During the show, she watched a taped message from White.

“I just wanted to say congratulations, Meryl,” White said. “No one knows better than me how much you deserve this. Through all the traveling, the sleepless nights, coming in here so early in the morning, you did everything with a smile on your face and inspired all of us. So thank you and congratulations.”

“Aww!” Davis said, smiling.

“Nothing but love,” said host Robin Roberts.

“Absolutely,” Davis said.

Then, Roberts got down to the nitty-gritty and asked the question millions of viewers wanted to know.

Are Davis and Chmerkovskiy dating?

“You weasel out of this question better than I do,” Chmerkovskiy said, looking at Davis.

And Davis started, well, weaseling, avoiding the question.

Part of the allure of the show was the sensuous, sexual chemistry between them.

“It was an incredible connection right away,” Chmerkovskiy said. “I don’t know why. We come from entirely different planets.”

After a dance, Davis and Chmerkovskiy headed to another show, “Live with Kelly and Michael.”

“You two are things of beauty,” Kelly Ripa said. “You look like you were born to dance with each other.”

“What are you going to do with your Mirror Ball Trophy?” asked Michael Strahan. “We just held it. That thing is heavy. What are you going to do with it? Next to your Olympic medals?”

“Yeah,” Davis said, breaking into a huge smile.

“I like you two as a couple,” Ripa said. “That’s all I’m going to say.”

Chmerkovskiy kissed Davis on the head and she rubbed his belly, totally comfortable playing her new sexy, sultry role.

Wait a second.

Where did that come from?

All of this sexiness?

About five months ago, I was at the Arctic Edge Ice Arena in Canton, preparing for the Winter Olympics.

“How would you describe Meryl Davis?” I asked her coach, Marina Zoueva.

“She has a unique look, unique personality,” Zoueva said. “For me, I call her Little Fluer.”

“Little Fluer?” I asked.

Marina spoke with a heavy Russian accent and struggled to pronounce some words.

“Flowwwwer,” she said, forcing it out slowly.

And it fit.

Beautiful. Classy. Elegant. Strong.

But nobody ever described Davis as sexy or sultry.

“She’s very quiet,” Meryl’s mother, Cheryl Davis, had told me, just a few days earlier. “She’s a perfectionist. I think people can take that the wrong way. She’s a very quiet girl.”

Davis was the girl next door from West Bloomfield, who grew up to be an Olympian. She had paired with White and they had been together since elementary school. They had grown close, like a brother and a sister. There was no question they loved each other, sticking together for so long. But there was no romance between them, even though some fans were obsessed with wondering.

White was dating Tanith Belbin, a former Olympic ice-dancing medalist, which he tried to keep secret.

If anything, going into the Olympics, Zoueva wanted Davis, 27, and White, 26, to be more sexy. More sultry in their routines.

So Zoueva tried to add an erotic flair to the middle of their free-dance program.

“It’s not natural for them,” Zoueva said.

How could it?

It would be like trying to act sexy with your brother or sister.


Double ick.
A different Davis

But Davis changed over the last few months.

Something came out of her during this TV show and she started to act sexy, sultry and sensuous, while dancing with Chmerkovskiy.

“Did you know that was in her?” I asked her mother.

“No!” Cheryl Davis said with a laugh. “I had no idea. Are you kidding? I had never seen her dance like that.”

And I felt uncomfortable, even asking her about it.

“I apologize for saying this to you, her mom, but she looked so sexy,” I said.

“I know,” Cheryl Davis said. “He is bringing it out of her. The two of them together. I was very proud of her. It just shows me what she is made of. She is so strong and determined to do things right. She has always wanted to be artistic, she has always wanted to show that side of herself.”

Well, consider it done.

But why didn’t it ever come out on skates?

“We asked her about that,” Cheryl Davis said. “She said, when on the ice, the technical is what is important. You have to have the technical score. You have to watch your edges. You have to have everything in the right place. You practice the same dance for a year. It gets to the point where it’s robotic. It’s the same dance, all year long.

“But this is more emotional. She can let herself go and she’s not as inhibited.”

The most revealing part of the show was the small behind-the-scenes vignettes with Chmerkovskiy. We saw a playful side of Davis. We saw the intense side. And we saw how she connects with her partners.

During a modern dance Monday night, Davis and Chmerkovskiy writhed around the dance floor, as Davis wore a nighty.

“My jaw dropped,” I said to Jacqui White, Charlie’s mother.

“So did ours,” said Jacqui White, who has known Davis since she was a kid. “All of us were thinking the same thing. ‘Wow! Where did that come from?’ Not just me. Her parents. Everybody who knows her. She was so free, not a fear in the world, just having a great time and having a blast. It’s been fun and exciting, kind of a joyful feeling.”
Athletes dominate

“Dancing With the Stars” has turned into the place where sports and pop culture cross into each other.

Davis was the eighth athlete to win the show, which debuted on ABC in 2005. The others are Emmitt Smith, Apolo Anton Ohno, Helio Castroneves, Kristi Yamaguchi, Shawn Johnson, Hines Ward and Donald Driver.

“I think Olympians, in particular, have a great understanding of training,” Davis said. “It takes a lot of physical exertion. Whether you are a snowboarder or ice skater or a football player, you are used to waking up and expecting a certain amount of effort. Bringing that into the show is an advantage.”

Why do athletes do this show? The reasons are obvious. Some are trying to get back into the limelight. Some are trying to find a new audience. And others are trying to capitalize on their moment.

For Davis and White, it was a natural. They are dancers, of course. But this also was their best chance to capitalize on their gold medal. They have a small window to garner advertisements and endorsements. White finished in fifth place in a field of 12.

“It absolutely extends their awareness,” said David Schwab of Octagon, a company that helps brands figure out their celebrity strategy. “There were roughly 15-million people who watched them for 12 weeks. That’s about 180 million impressions on TV alone, let alone all the print coverage. Plus the fact that she’s in the newspaper every day or People magazine or on ‘Entertainment Tonight’ for a solid three-month run. I don’t know the numbers, but it’s certainly over a billion impressions.”

A billion impressions.

“I think it will help her from a business perspective,” Schwab said.

Her newfound sexiness makes her more marketable because she is proving to be an extrovert, a bigger-than-life personality, which is appealing to most brands.

But for now, the endorsements can wait.

Because Davis is going on vacation to Hawaii.

“Will you and Charlie ever skate together again?” I asked.

“Absolutely,” she said. “Whether it’s professional or shows, we haven’t decided yet. We have some time to figure that out. Charlie and I definitely intend to skate together for years to come.”

So this ending really isn’t an ending.

It’s just a well-deserved vacation.





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