Meryl Davis, Charlie White

Davis/White best Virtue/Moir by slimmest of margins, lead at GP Final

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On rages the battle between the two best ice dance teams in the world. Friday at the Grand Prix Finals in Fukuoka, Japan, Americans Meryl Davis and Charlie White squeaked out the narrowest of margins against rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, taking the lead after the short dance, 77.66 to 77.59.

“Wow,” remarked White in the Kiss and Cry after the scores came in. “So close,” replied Davis.

It’s the Americans who have dominated this rivalry over the last few years, winning the World Championships in 2011 and 2013 after the Canadians had captured gold at the Vancouver Games. Davis/White are going for their 15th consecutive Grand Prix gold medal, a record in the sport.

In the pairs short program, the favorites prevailed in what was a flurry of high-octane skating, one team putting out a show-stopping performance after the other. It was reigning world champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov who skated into the lead, scoring a 82.65. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the Germans, were second with a 79.46.

Volosozhar/Trankov have appeared unstoppable this Grand Prix season, registering the two highest scores as no team has come within 25 points of them. But the Russian gold-medal favorites were forced to deliver as the final pair skating Friday after five teams put out season-best performance’s in Fukuoka.

There was less pressure on Davis/White and Virtue/Moir, who appear to be in a class by themselves. Even with four near-flawless dances before them, the top two teams enjoyed a margin of nearly nine points. Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev of Russia were in third, scoring a 68.90.

Davis/White and Virtue/Moir recorded the two highest-ever scores for a short dance, besting Davis/White’s mark from the 2013 World Championships of 77.13.

The Americans and Canadians train with one another and share the same coach in Detroit, an unusual arrangement that they feel brings out the best in both teams.

“I think that having such talent alongside of you that Tessa and Scott have every day in training and in competition does nothing but push Charlie and myself further,” Davis said. “It makes us want to be a better team every day.”

In pairs, Pang Qing and Tong Jian, the Vancouver silver medalists, were third after the short program, scoring a 75.40. Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford turned in their season’s best 73.07 to secure fourth place.

The Russians had struggled with their throw triple loop in the warm-up, Volosozhar double-rotating it at one point and two-footing another landing. But there was no trouble for them in a session that saw no falls on throws or side-by-side jumps.

Savchenko/Szolkowy, the four-time world champions and 2010 Olympic bronze medalists, were given a one-point deduction for a time violation, widening the gap between them and Volosozhar/Trankov.

Volosozhar/Trankov are looking to become just the fourth pairs team to win back-to-back Grand Prix Final gold medals. The last to do so? Savchenko/Szolkowy in 2010 and 2011.

Davis/White are looking for their fifth straight Grand Prix Final win.

Hanyu, Asada lead after short program at Grand Prix Final

Mikaela Shiffrin runner-up in World Cup season opener

SOELDEN, AUSTRIA - OCTOBER 22: Mikaela Shiffrin of USA in action during the Audi FIS Alpine Ski World Cup Women's Giant Slalom on October 22, 2016 in Soelden, Austria (Photo by Alexis Boichard/Agence Zoom/Getty Images)
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Mikaela Shiffrin‘s bid for a first outright World Cup giant slalom victory was denied by World Cup overall champion Lara Gut on Saturday, opening what could be a season-long battle between the two.

The Swiss Gut dominated to win the first race in Soelden, Austria, by 1.44 seconds over Shiffrin combining times from two runs. It marked the second-largest women’s margin of victory in Soelden history.

“It’s a big relief to walk away from today with a podium,” Shiffrin said. “It’s always great to win, but I’m starting off on the right foot. I can be happy with that, but I know I can do better.”

Italian Marta Bassino was third. Full results are here.

“I put myself so much under pressure until this morning,” said Gut, who led Shiffrin by 1.42 seconds after the first of two runs. “Sometimes, it’s horrible. You get into the race, and start thinking instead of just skiing. I’m happy I had a fast first run because the second run was just a fight.”

Shiffrin, the youngest Olympic slalom champion, shared victory with Austrian Anna Veith in Soelden in 2014 and finished second to Italian Federica Brignone last year.

Lindsey Vonn and Veith, both coming back from season-ending knee injuries, skipped Soelden.

Gut and Shiffrin could be the top World Cup overall title contenders with Vonn focusing on speed events and Veith’s readiness uncertain. Shiffrin had finished fifth, sixth and fourth in the overall standings before placing 10th last season, when she missed two months due to a right knee injury.

Gut, 25, won six races across four disciplines last season, showing the kind of all-around prowess that Shiffrin can’t yet match. Shiffrin is the world’s best slalom skier and showed she is elite in giant slalom on Saturday, but she has scant experience in downhill, super-G and super combined races.

“Lara’s given us a good pace to chase,” Shiffrin said. “When she comes down, and she’s that far ahead and just taking every gate like it’s the last gate she’s going to ski, it’s really cool to see.”

The men open their season in Soelden on Sunday (4 a.m. and 7 a.m. ET, NBC Sports app; 9:30 p.m. ET, NBCSN).

The women next race a slalom in Levi, Finland, on Nov. 12.

Shiffrin has won 11 straight slaloms dating to 2015, including her last eight World Cup slaloms, the longest streak since four-time Olympic champion Janica Kostelic won 10 straight from 1999 through 2001.


Ashley Wagner tops Skate America short program

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HOFFMAN ESTATES, Ill. (AP) — Ashley Wagner topped the Skate America short program Friday night with 69.50 points, building on her second-place finish from last season’s world championships.

Japan’s Mai Mihara, making her Grand Prix Series debut at 17, was second at 65.75, and U.S. champion Gracie Gold third at 64.87.

The free skate will determine the champion Saturday at Sears Centre Arena (live on NBC and the NBC Sports app at 4:30 p.m. ET). Full results are here.

Wagner performed with a fierce and determined style, delivering a technically solid and entertaining program to “Sweet Dreams” by the Eurhythmics.

“I capitalized on the momentum (from worlds) going into the summer,” said Wagner, the 2012 Skate America winner. “It inspired me to train even harder than I had been because it showed me that my training got me onto that podium. It motivated me and made it a realistic goal to get onto that Olympic podium, and I can almost taste it. It’s a totally new season. I’m hopefully a different athlete from that Worlds event and I think it’s just about building on that from here on out.”

Mihara fell during her warmup, which she said relaxed her during her performance.

“I think for my first Grand Prix event, I did a good job,” she said.

Gold, coming off a disappointing fourth-place finish in the world championships, fell on her triple flip, but otherwise was solid in her performance to a tango.

“I had a hiccup on the triple flip, but I went after everything,” Gold said. “I just need to keep working on the program and just keep getting it out there.”

Gold said the months after the world championships were difficult and affected her training.

“It was a pretty hard summer,” she said. “I had trouble getting going and getting my feet under me for some reason. I felt I had let myself down. No one else felt the intense shame that I felt, but it was just so internal that I had trouble getting back out there. But as soon as I got the momentum going, I’ve been feeling excellent.”

Three-time World champion Mao Asada of Japan, hampered by a knee injury, was fifth.

In pairs, Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took a commanding lead program with a score of 75.24. Americans Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, who missed last season with a knee injury to Denney, were second at 67.29, and Canadians Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau followed at 66.49.

Tarasova and Morozov, fifth at the world championships, received high marks on their opening triple twist as well as their lifts, spins and footwork.

“Today we have a short program we did well,” Morozov said. “We have a personal best and were glad to have this moment.”

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