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

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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

Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen trail at world championships

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Nathan Chen fell in competition for the first time since December. Yuzuru Hanyu messed up a jumping combination. Neither of the world championships favorites is in the top four after the short program in Helsinki on Thursday.

Instead, two-time defending world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain catapulted to a comfortable lead with a personal-best short program. Fernandez landed his jumps clean, with two quads, for 109.05 points.

Japan’s Shoma Uno is second with 104.86, followed by Canada’s Patrick Chan at 102.13 and China’s Jin Boyang at 98.64.

Fifth-place Hanyu put his knee down on the opening jump of his planned quadruple Salchow-triple toe loop combination and then doubled the toe loop. He ended up with 98.39 points, more than 12 points off his world record.

Chen is sixth after falling on a triple Axel and totaling 97.33 points, hurting his hopes to become the youngest men’s world champion.

The free skate is Saturday morning, with coverage on NBCSN, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app at 12:30 p.m. ET.

Full Scores | Broadcast Schedule

Chen last fell in the Grand Prix Final short program in December. He then outscored the field, including Uno, Fernandez, Hanyu, in the Grand Prix Final free skate to jump from fifth to second.

Chen then won the U.S. Championships in record fashion and beat Hanyu and Uno at the Four Continents Championships in February, landing a record five quads in the free skate at both events. He has landed 20 straight quads in competition.

Chen has indicated he may attempt six quads in the worlds free skate on Saturday. He may need them to challenge for gold.

The last U.S. man to earn a world championships medal was Evan Lysacek, who took gold in 2009.

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VIDEO: Russian pairs skater slices leg on partner’s skate

Men’s Short Program
1. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 109.05
2. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 104.86
3. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 102.13
4. Jin Boyang (CHN) — 98.64
5. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 98.39
6. Nathan Chen (USA) — 97.33

8. Jason Brown (USA) — 93.10

U.S. women’s hockey agreement could have far-reaching impact

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Cammi Granato‘s biggest victory in hockey came 12 years after she retired.

When USA Hockey and the women’s national team agreed to a contract Tuesday night that ended a wage dispute, Granato couldn’t put her happiness into words.

The Hockey Hall of Famer and her teammates staged a similar fight in 2000 without success, and she hopes the current team’s progress paves the way for the future of women’s hockey and even other sports.

“It’s bigger than any victory that we’ve had in USA Hockey,” said Granato, who won the gold medal in 1998 with the U.S. at the first Olympics with women’s hockey. “I just think it’s such a positive, positive day for women’s hockey, women’s sports and women in general.”

Granato and lawmakers, lawyers and experts see the U.S. national team’s agreement as a precedent-setter for other hockey teams around the world and other men’s and women’s athletes in this country.

As the U.S. women’s soccer team continues to work out a labor contract, the women’s hockey team showed how it could leverage solidarity and timing into a multiyear agreement that satisfied all parties involved and pushed gender quality in sports forward.

“I’m hoping it will create a wave across the country of more equity in pay,” said Minnesota senator Amy Klobuchar, one of 20 senators to write to USA Hockey executive director Dave Ogrean encouraging him to end the dispute.

“We know that it’s not going to be exactly the same. We know the viewership numbers for some of these sports, but at least you have to try. When you try and you give them more funding, it’s kind of a chicken-and-egg problem.

“Once they’re able to actually support themselves and it’s more lucrative, you get more women going into the sport, then you have better sports and you have more people watching them.”

In that way, women’s hockey has taken the first step toward following women’s soccer, almost 20 years after the World Cup-winning team led by Mia Hamm, Brianna Scurry, Julie Foudy and Brandi Chastain inspired Granato and her teammates to challenge USA Hockey.

Members of the U.S. women’s hockey team will now make $3,000-$4,000 a month with the ability to earn around $71,000 annually and up to $129,000 in Olympic years when combined with contributions from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

That’s still less than what women’s soccer players bring in, but now players won’t have to work second or third jobs – and half did – or retire to start a family because the new contract guarantees that protection along with insurance and other improvements.

Lawyer John Langel of Ballard Spahr, who represented soccer players from 1998-2014 and the hockey players in this negotiation, said hockey “shouldn’t necessarily take the same long journey” depending on how many strides are made in professional leagues, programming, marketing and sponsorships.

One immediate impact is lengthening careers, which has already shown to be the case in soccer and could transfer over to other sports.

Granato retired in 2005, but still felt as if she had “more to give” and finds it incredible that players in the current generation won’t have to hang up their skates as early as she did.

With a deal in place, the U.S. opens its world championship gold-medal defense Friday against Canada. Players had threatened to boycott the tournament over the wage dispute, which Pepper Hamilton labor and employment lawyer Matt DelDuca considers the most interesting aspect of the case.

“It shows other groups a path for trying to negotiate and use their leverage to negotiate a deal that’s favorable to them or that they’re satisfied with,” DelDuca said.

“It does really require solidarity though. You really need to have everybody together to make it work, and in this case they really seemed to have had that. In all those ways it is a benchmark for other groups to use.”

USA Hockey said all along its priority was to get a deal done, but did reach out to replacement players. Very few accepted the invite as star forward Hilary Knight and other top players espoused the solidarity of the entire player pool.

“There wasn’t any poaching of other players,” said North Dakota senator Heidi Heitkamp, another senator who wrote to Ogrean.

“They were all united in this common goal, and I think that competitive, athletic spirit really showed up in terms of fighting for your rights. I thought they deserved the support of people here who say that they support equality in pay and equality in opportunity.”

Susan Kahn, a University of Buffalo professor of women’s history, said the Senate’s involvement made it clear this wasn’t just a financial dispute, but “a political issue around equal treatment and fighting gender bias in amateur sport.”

Within hockey, the agreement allows for future expansion in the professional and amateur ranks.

“It sets the stage for a major growth in the game,” Granato said. “I think there’s a potential here to take this team and have it be followed similar to other women’s sports and where they’re at right now.”

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