Charlie White, Meryl Davis

Meryl Davis/Charlie White dominate at Skate America; Japanese wins men’s title

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World champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White continued their march toward the Sochi Olympics by easily winning Skate America, while a Japanese man was untouchable in the free skate in Detroit on Saturday night.

Davis and White, the 2010 Olympic silver medalists, extended their ice dancing lead after Friday’s short program at Joe Louis Arena, posting the highest free dance score to total 188.23 points. Italians Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte were well back in second with 168.49.

Japan’s Tatsuki Machida cruised to the men’s title, beating second-place American Adam Rippon by 24 points.

Skate America concludes with the pairs and women’s free skates Sunday. NBC and NBC Live Extra will have coverage from 4-6 p.m. Eastern time.

Asada, Russians lead going into Sunday

Davis and White, who have worked with “Dancing with the Stars”‘ Derek Hough on choreography, skated to “Scheherazade.” The Michigan natives competed in Detroit for the first time in over 10 years.

“It’s a little bit daunting,” Davis said as White pointed to the crowd from the kiss-and-cry area. “It’s always nerve-racking competing in front of the people you love most.”

They were in a class of their own, .15 off their personal best in international competition.

“Every time I see these two take the ice, I just have to sit back and marvel,” 2006 Olympic silver medalist Tanith Belbin said on Ice Network. “These two never disappoint.”

Davis and White are the U.S.’ top medal hope in figure skating at the Sochi Olympics. They’re looking to reverse the 2010 Olympic podium, where they took second to Canadian rivals and training partners Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir.

Virtue and Moir make their Grand Prix season debut at Skate Canada next week. Davis and White’s next Grand Prix assignment is NHK Trophy in Tokyo, Nov. 8-10 (without Virtue and Moir).

The other U.S. ice dancers entered, siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, finished third and fourth.

Alex fell to the ice in the early seconds of their Michael Jackson free dance, which was otherwise refreshingly energetic.

They’re vying with U.S. silver medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates for spots on the U.S. Olympic team, which will include three total ice dance couples.

The U.S. Olympic team will be chosen after the U.S. Championships in Boston in January.

The men’s champion at Skate America is no sure thing to make his Olympic team. Japan is the deepest singles figure skating nation in the world, and Machida wasn’t on its three-man team for the World Championships in March.

“It’s very hard to get an Olympic spot in Japan,” said Machida, who skated to “Firebird,” the music Evan Lysacek used for his short program at the 2010 Olympics. “We have so many good skaters.”

Machida boosted his status by beating more accomplished Japanese men Daisuke Takahashi (fourth, 236.21) and Takahiko Kozuka (sixth, 230.95). Japan’s No. 1 skater, Yuzuru Hanyu, wasn’t at Skate America.

The U.S. Olympic team picture is also jammed for two available spots, though some order was restored Saturday.

U.S. champion Max Aaron finished third behind Machida and Rippon, moving up from sixth after the short program Friday. Aaron attempted three quadruple jumps — falling on one, putting his hand on the ice on another and perhaps having a two-foot landing on the third.

His score, 238.36, was the same as his total at March’s World Championships, where he placed seventh.

Rippon, the world junior champion in 2008 and 2009, took silver for his first Grand Prix medal in three seasons. He fell on his only quad attempt in the free skate and popped a triple axel.

Then there’s Jason Brown, in second place after the short program in his Grand Prix debut. Brown struggled in his free skate.

He does not have a quad in his program, and he fell on his toughest jump, a triple axel. Brown, who made the field as a replacement for the injured Lysacek, dropped to fifth place overall.

Three different U.S. men — Jeremy AbbottJosh Farris and Ross Miner — are scheduled for Skate Canada next week.

Here's an up close look at the Skate America ice dance gold medal. #SA2013

A photo posted by U.S. Figure Skating (@usfigureskating) on

Ice Dance Results
1. Meryl Davis/Charlie White (USA) 188.23
2. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) 168.49
3. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) 154.47
4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) 152.98
5. Cathy Reed/Chris Reed (JPN) 136.13
6. Pernelle Carron/Lloyd Jones (FRA) 135.70
7. Isabella Tobias/Deividas Stagniūnas (LTU) 134.67
8. Julia Zlobina/Alexei Sitnikov (AZE) 133.76

Men’s Results
1. Tatsuki Machida (JPN) 265.38
2. Adam Rippon (USA) 241.24
3. Max Aaron (USA) 238.36
4. Daisuke Takahashi (JPN) 236.21
5. Jason Brown (USA) 231.03
6. Takahiko Kozuka (JPN) 230.95
7. Alexander Majorov (SWE) 208.72
8. Artur Gachinski (RUS) 208.16

Intense attention on Mao Asada

Dan Jansen explains recent flurry of world records

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Dan Jansen has significant experience rewriting the speed skating world record book.

The 1994 Olympic 1000m champion broke the 500m world record in 1992, and then lowered his mark another four times. He also set world records in the 1000m and sprint combination.

Yet even Jansen is shocked by the number of edits to the record book over the last two weeks.

“I haven’t seen anything like it,” Jansen said. “Not this many.”

Four world records were broken this past weekend at the World Cup in Kearns, Utah. The weekend before, world records in three Olympic events fell at the season-opening World Cup in Calgary.

There is no surprise about the locations of the record-breaking performances.

The Utah Olympic Oval claims to have the “fastest ice on earth,” and for good reason. The venue is located 4,675 feet above sea level. At such a high altitude, the air is less dense, meaning speed skaters experience less air resistance and are therefore able to achieve faster speeds.

It is the same reason baseball players hit more home runs at the Colorado Rockies’ stadium, Coors Field, and football kickers are able to make longer field goals when they travel to play the Denver Broncos.

The Calgary Olympic Oval is also at a high altitude, although not as high as at the venue in Kearns. All of the current Olympic event world records have been set in either Utah or Calgary.

What is surprising, however, is the large number of world records broken during a two-week stretch.

Brittany Bowe started the revision of the record book by breaking her own women’s 1000m world record on Nov. 14 in Calgary. Just three minutes later, her U.S. Olympic teammate, Heather Richardson, claimed the world record for herself. Then, this past Sunday in Utah, Bowe broke the world record once again. NBCSN will televise the coverage from Utah this Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET, with Jansen providing the commentary.

Richardson also stole a world record from Bowe in the women’s 1500m. Bowe broke the world record on Nov. 15, only to have Richardson lower the time on Nov. 21.

“It’s pretty easy to tell that we bring out the best in each other,” Bowe said to U.S. Speedskating on Sunday. “When we’re racing together something special happens almost every time.”

In the men’s competition, Russia’s Pavel Kulizhnikov broke the 500m world record  on Nov. 15, and lowered it again on Nov. 20. Canada’s Ted-Jan Bloemen shattered the men’s 10,000m world record, taking 5.39 seconds off Sven Kramer’s mark from 2007.

Jansen attributes the women’s world records to the continued development of Bowe and Richardson. Both are converted inline skaters who have become more confident racing on the ice.

Bowe started inline skating when she was eight years old. After graduating from high school, she was offered the opportunity to move to Utah to transition to speed skating for the Vancouver 2010 Olympics. But she decided hang up her inline skates to focus on playing collegiate basketball at Florida Atlantic University.

She only started speed skating after being inspired by watching Richardson compete at the 2010 Games.

“Brittany learns more almost daily,” Jansen said. “She is still going to get better.”

Richardson quickly adjusted to racing on the ice, despite being described as “Bambi on ice” when she first started speed skating in 2007. She married Dutch distance skater Jorrit Bergsma in 2015 and moved to the Netherlands. Richardson’s endurance has improved since she started training with her husband, the 2014 Olympic 10,000m champion.

“Those two ladies are dominant right now,” Jansen said about Bowe and Richardson. “It is hard to see anybody else closing the gap they have in the middle distances.”

Jansen, the first speed skater to break 36 seconds in the 500m, seemed surprised that it took so long for the men’s 500m and 10,000m world records to fall. Canada’s Jeremy Wotherspoon held the men’s 500m world record since Nov. of 2007. Kramer’s 10,000m time, which was recorded in Feb. of 2007, was the longest-standing Olympic event world record.

“It’s about time,” Jansen said. “These guys are flying right now.”

No more world records are expected to be broken this season, as the rest of the competition venues are located closer to sea level. Similarly, no world records are expected to be broken at the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.

“It’s a little bit of a bummer because you would like to see world records at the Olympics, but our sport is not conducive to that,” Jansen said. “Unless you have the Olympics up high.”

Jansen believes U.S. Speedskating will continue to experience positive momentum.

At Sochi 2014, losing became contagious, and the U.S. contingent departed Russia with zero Olympic medals. Jansen now expects the recent success to reverberate throughout the entire team.

“It’s an exciting time for U.S. Speedskating,” Jansen said. “They are making statements, and I don’t think they are finished.”

Watch NBC Olympics Thanksgiving promo video

NBC Olympics Promo
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Actress Eva Longoria narrates the newest NBC promo video for the Rio 2016 Olympics.

The 60-second spot features several athletes with their families in their home countries, including:

Simone Biles (USA, gymnastics)

David Boudia (USA, diving)

Genzebe Dibaba (Ethiopia, track and field)

Murilo Endres (Brazil, volleyball) and his wife Jaqueline Carvalho (Brazil, volleyball)

Dylan van Baarle (Netherlands, cycling)

Kerri Walsh Jennings (USA, beach volleyball)

The promo will air on television on Thanksgiving day towards the end of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

“The spot reflects the crucial role that family plays in the journey of so many Olympic athletes,” said John Miller, Chief Marketing Officer of NBC Sports Group. “With the Games being one of the few family-viewing experiences left on television, we felt this message was appropriate for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend.”

VIDEO: 2016 Rio Olympic Games: One year out promo