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

Teddy Riner, dominant judoka, to skip 2018, 2019 Worlds

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French judoka Teddy Riner, arguably the world’s most dominant athlete, will reportedly skip the next two world championships before the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

French coach Franck Chambily said Riner will compete a light international schedule the next two years ahead of what would be his fourth Olympics, according to Agence France-Presse.

Riner, a 29-year-old, 6-foot-8-inch native of Guadeloupe, is undefeated since 2010 with a reported 144-match winning streak. That includes Olympic titles in 2012 and 2016 and world titles in 2011, 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2017.

Before the streak, Riner also earned world titles in 2007, 2009 and 2010, plus an Olympic bronze at age 19 in 2008.

He could compete through the 2024 Paris Games.

“When I am invincible, I will stop,” Riner said in 2013, according to The Associated Press.

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Maggie Nichols wins NCAA all-around title with perfect 10

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Even after a perfect 10 in the last rotation, Maggie Nichols didn’t know that she had won the NCAA all-around title. Her coach at Oklahoma, K.J. Kindler, had to tell her.

The reaction?

“Excitement,” Nichols said Friday night on ESPNU. “I just wanted to go out there and feel out the equipment, staying calm and doing my routines that I have been doing in training.”

Nichols, a 2015 World team champion who retired from elite gymnastics after missing the 2016 Olympic team (set back by a torn meniscus that year), became the first Sooner to win the NCAA all-around in 30 years.

The sophomore tallied 39.8125 points and topped Olympic alternate MyKayla Skinner of Utah by .0875 for the title in St. Louis. It came one year after Nichols was 29th in the all-around with a balance beam fall.

Oklahoma and Utah will be joined in Saturday night’s Super Six team finals by UCLA, LSU, Florida and Nebraska. The Sooners eye their third straight national title.

Nichols capped her night with one of two perfect scores between the two semifinal sessions, matching 2012 Olympic alternate Elizabeth Price‘s 10 on uneven bars. It gave Nichols a second career gym slam, a perfect score on every apparatus for the season.

On Jan. 9, Nichols came forward as “Athlete A,” who first reported to USA Gymnastics that she was sexually abused by Larry Nassar in summer 2015.

“She has had a really unique year probably like no one else, and her strength showed through,” Kindler said Friday, according to the University of Oklahoma. “It was tough, and to come out on this side this year is really special.”

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