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

Yuzuru Hanyu tops Grand Prix Final short program

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu is well on his way to a record fourth straight Grand Prix Final title.

The Olympic champion landed two quadruple jumps while his closest rival, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, nearly fell twice in the short program in Marseille, France, on Thursday.

Hanyu tallied 106.53 points, the third-highest short program score under the decade-old scoring system, but said he wasn’t completely satisfied. Hanyu owns the five best short programs, all compiled in the last two seasons, with a best of 110.95.

“This program feels like a concert,” said Hanyu, who skated to Prince music in a purple outfit. “I consider this program cannot be completed without the audience.

“I feel this program has a lot more potential. I really wanted to improve my personal-best score here.”

Hanyu is trying to become the first singles skater to win four straight Grand Prix Finals in the event’s 22-year history.

He leads three-time Canadian world champion Patrick Chan by 6.77 points going into Saturday’s free skate. Chan’s clean short program included one quad and marked his first personal best in three years.

“The first good short program in a long time, internationally,” Chan said. “It didn’t feel any more special than any usual training day.”

Fernandez, who beat Hanyu at the last two world championships, nearly fell on a quad Salchow and a triple Axel and is in third, nearly 15 points back of Hanyu.

Fernandez was followed by Japan’s Shoma Uno and the two Americans, training partners Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon, in fifth and sixth in the six-skater field.

Chen, 17, fell on a quad flip and stepped out of a quad Lutz landing.

“I made two pretty big mistakes, so I’m a little bit upset about that,” Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I was able to land the triple Axel, which I’m happy about because that’s always been my struggle jump.”

Rippon, 27, was the only skater to not attempt a quad.

“I’m trying the least amount of quads so my focus is to skate well overall,” Rippon said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I want to do my best and improve for the rest of the season.”

Chen and Rippon are the first American men in a Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, since 2011.

The Grand Prix Final continues Friday with the short dance, pairs free skate and women’s short program (broadcast schedule here).

Earlier in pairs, Canadian world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford struggled to third place in the short program. Duhamel fell on a throw triple Axel.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead by 3.26 points going into Friday’s free skate.

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Men’s Short Program
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 106.53
2. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 99.76
3. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 91.76
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 86.82
5. Nathan Chen (USA) — 85.30
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 83.93

Pairs Short Program
1. Yevgenia Tarasovana/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 78.60
2. Xiaoyu Yu/Hao Zhang (CHN) — 75.34
3. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 71.44
4. Cheng Peng/Yang Jin (CHN) — 70.84
5. Natalya Zabiyako/Aleksander Enbert (RUS) — 65.79
6. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 60.86

IOC president wants life bans for Russian cheats

DOHA, QATAR - NOVEMBER 16: IOC President Thomas Bach closing remarks during the fourth day of the 21st ANOC General Assembly at the Sheraton Grand Hotel on November 16, 2016 in Doha, Qatar. (Photo by Mark Runnacles/Getty Images for ANOC)
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LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) — Russian athletes and officials who are proven to have been part of a doping “manipulation system” should be banned for life from the Olympics, IOC President Thomas Bach said Thursday.

Bach gave his personal view one day before Canadian investigator Richard McLaren publishes a final report into alleged state-backed cheating at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics.

Proof of systematic doping would be “aggravated circumstances” to justify life bans, the IOC leader said at a news conference after a three-day executive board meeting.

“I would not like to see this person again at any Olympic Games in any function,” Bach said, noting that as an IOC disciplinary commission chairman he approved life bans for Austrian team members implicated in doping at the 2006 Turin Winter Games.

However, proving that individual athletes knew of systematic doping involving state agencies could be difficult.

McLaren, who was appointed by the World Anti-Doping Agency in May, is expected to give more detail about cheating operations at the Sochi laboratory.

In his interim report in July, McLaren confirmed claims by former lab director Grigory Rodchenkov of a hole-in-the-wall swapping system aided by the FSB security agency to exchange athletes’ dirty urine samples for clean ones.

Earlier Thursday, the IOC member appointed to oversee disciplinary cases that arise from McLaren’s evidence acknowledged they could be tough to prove.

“Can you prove (athletes) were aware?” Denis Oswald, a Swiss lawyer, said on the sidelines of a sports law conference in Geneva.

“It is not that we would be scared to attack high level people in the Russian regime,” the Swiss lawyer said. “The question is more on the legal point of view. Can you punish athletes if they have done nothing and whether they were not aware of what was happening?”

Bach has also appointed a second IOC commission, headed by former Switzerland president Samuel Schmid, to evaluate if McLaren’s report and evidence proves a state-run doping system.

“And then based on that we will see if we can start cases against athletes,” Oswald said.

Meanwhile, United States lawmakers want Bach to attend a congressional committee hearing next Thursday to provide an update on sports’ fight against doping.

“Unfortunately I cannot attend there,” said Bach, adding that the IOC will “provide by other means all the information they may need.”

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