Davis/White dance to record, Grand Prix Final win over rivals

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A world record to overcome and the Grand Prix Final gold medal on the line, American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White rose to the occasion Saturday in Fukuoka, Japan.

Skating after rivals Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir had delivered a brilliant free dance to give them a highest-ever overall score, 190.00, Davis/White were flawless in their own free dance, edging out their training partners – literally – by just over a point, with a 191.35.

The win gave Davis/White their 15th straight Grand Prix gold medal, a record in the sport and a streak that dates back to the 2008 season and includes five straight Grand Prix Final wins.

“It’s such an amazing feeling knowing that you put everything into it,” a smiling White told the crowd.

Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat of France were third, rallying from fifth place with a 169.11.

The win solidifies Davis/White, the 2011 and 2013 world champions, as the favorites heading into the Olympics four years after Virtue/Moir beat them at the Vancouver Games for the gold medal.

“We’re going to work harder than ever,” Davis said. “We’re really excited … the Olympics is the pinnacle of sport and we want to put our best skates forward.”

The favorites couldn’t hold on in the pairs competition, however, with reigning world champions Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov of Russia giving up a three-point lead after the short program and losing out to Germans Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy, the 2012 world champions.

It was the first time Savchenko/Szolkowy had beaten the Russian duo, who had been dominant throughout the Grand Prix season and owned the best scores by over 25 points, since the 2012 World Championships.

The loss puts a dent in Volosozhar/Trankov’s formerly impenatrable front-runner status heading into the Olympic Games, though they’re still considered the favorites.

After Savchenko/Szolkowy recorded a personal-best overall score of 227.03, Volosozhar failed to deliver in the final skate of the afternoon, falling on a triple Salchow near the start of the program and then putting her hand down after a triple toe, failing to complete a planned combination.

Those mistakes were enough to vault Savchenko/Szolkowy to their fourth-ever Grand Prix Final gold medal and first since 2011, Volosozhar/Trankov finishing with a 223.83.

“We are really happy,” Szolkowy, 34, said rinkside. “It’s a big surprise for us, but wow, we made it.”

“We will try our best to prepare our best for the Olympics,” he added. “It’s two months from now, so we’ll just keep working, working, working.”

The Germans were bronze medalists at the Vancouver Games.

The silver medalists from the 2010 Olympics, Pang Qing and Tong Jian secured the bronze medal in pairs, the 2010 world champions becoming just the fifth team to score over 200 points this season with a 213.98.

Savchenko/Szolkowy began and ended with big throws: a throw triple flip to start and then a throw triple Salchow to finish. The Germans did not try a throw triple Axel, which Savchenko fell hard on two weeks ago at the Grand Prix of Russia.

Home favorite Hanyu skates to upset over Chan

Ice dance – Final results
1. Meryl Davis and Charlie White (USA) 191.35
2. Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (CAN) 190.00
3. Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat (FRA) 169.11
4. Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev (RUS) 166.72
5. Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje (CAN) 165.04
6. Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte (ITA) 156.58

Pairs – Final results
1. Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (GER) 227.03
2. Tatyana Volosozhar and Maksim Trankov (RUS) 223.83
3. Pang Qing and Tong Jian (CHN) 213.98
4. Peng Cheng and Zhang Hao (CHN) 197.37
5. Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (CAN) 193.38
6. Kirsten Moore-Towers and Dylan Moscovitch (CAN) 189.11

U.S. diving moves on without David Boudia

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ATLANTA (AP) — These days, the pool deck seems a little empty for the U.S. diving team.

Someone’s missing.

David Boudia.

He was the stalwart of the American program for the better part of the decade, the guy who usually came through at the biggest meets.

“It’s going to be weird … not having David there,” said Steele Johnson, a good friend of Boudia’s and former synchronized partner. “But at the same time, it’s a new generation.”

After winning two more Olympic medals in Rio, Boudia decided to take a year off and may be done for good. His wife is having their second child, and there’s not much left to accomplish at age 27.

With a little over three years to go before the Tokyo Olympics, the U.S. is already moving toward filling the huge hole that Boudia’s retirement would leave.

“I’m sure everyone has felt that same way about other people,” Johnson said. “Like when Mark Ruiz retired or Laura Wilkinson first retired, all these awesome people, it’s always different. But it’s a good change. Generational change needs to happen.”

MORE: Wilkinson unretries

There are some experienced divers for the U.S. team to build around, including Johnson, a silver medalist with Boudia in synchronized platform at the Rio Games last summer, and the springboard team of Sam Dorman and Michael Hixon, who also captured a silver in synchro springboard.

Several promising youngsters are working their way up, as well, most notably 14-year-old Tarrin Gilliland.

During a recent meet in Atlanta, the Texas teen qualified for a pair of synchronized events at the July world championships in Budapest, Hungary. Gilliland paired with Olympian Jessica Parratto to win the women’s platform and joined Andrew Capobianco to claim victory in the mixed platform, a non-Olympic event.

Yep, it’s going to be quite a summer break for the high school freshman.

“The plan is to keep getting stronger and healthier and start getting my dives more consistent, and maybe add some (degree of difficulty) in there,” Gilliland said. “And just have fun during the process.”

Everyone realizes that not having Boudia puts a huge burden on the rest of the divers to step up their performances, especially if they want to have any chance against the powerful Chinese team.

Boudia had a hand in two of the three diving medals the Americans won in Rio, also taking an individual bronze in the platform.

He also captured two medals in London, including a stunning gold in 10-meter — the first Olympic win for the U.S. in a dozen years — along with a synchronized bronze off the big tower.

Throw in Boudia’s performances at the next-biggest meet on the calendar, and it’s clear how much he meant to the program. Over the last five world championships, he earned four silvers and a bronze.

“David Boudia obviously offered a lot of leadership and he had a lot of experience, so he was a role model to a lot of us,” said Kassidy Cook, a Rio Olympian. “But I think that a lot of other people, like Sam and Mikey and me, we can pick up where he kind of left us off. He’s left us with a lot of good advice and some good leadership roles to fill in. Although we will miss him if he doesn’t come back, we can definitely keep up the positive attitude and hard-working vibes transitioning into this next Olympics.”

Boudia still takes time to mentor Johnson and other young divers based in Indiana.

But Johnson, who is only 20, knows it will be on him and the other Olympic veterans to work with those who haven’t experienced those sort of high-pressure meets.

“Leading into the Olympic year, I really learned from David, through all the World Series meets, how to really handle each competition with different environments and different competitors,” Johnson recalled. “It’s just a lot of learning over these next few years, but it’s a lot of fun interaction with each other.”

He is eager to see how divers such as Gilliland and 15-year-old Maria Coburn, who qualified for worlds in synchronized 3-meter, fare in Budapest.

No matter what the result, the experience they gain will be invaluable.

“It’s good for them to get their feet wet now, with three years left leading up,” Johnson said. “There’s time for growth. You may not go in and win world championships your first time. You may never win. But you’re going to go into these competitions and you’re going to learn from those experiences. That’s what I did the first couple of years when David and I competed.”

As part of the development process, the coaches have paired of up veterans with some of the most promising newcomers. Parratto has taken Gilliland under her wing. Coburn will compete at worlds with Cook.

Synchro diving has become a huge emphasis for the U.S., contributing heavily to its renewed success at the last two Olympics. The Americans were shut out in both 2004 and 2008, an embarrassing fall for a program that once dominated the international scene with stars such as Greg Louganis. But synchro, in which only eight teams compete in a single round of competition, provides a much better chance of reaching the medal stand.

“Synchro has definitely been a main focus for the United States,” Cook said. “You only have to beat five teams to get on the podium. That is definitely the best shot for a medal at the Olympics and the world championships.”

That will continue to be the strategy heading toward Tokyo.

With or without Boudia.

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MORE: Boudia to decide whether to retire

Chuck Wielgus, head of USA Swimming for 2 decades, dies at age 67

Chuck Wielgus
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COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (AP) — USA Swimming executive director Chuck Wielgus, who led a federation that brought home 156 Olympic medals during his 20 years at the helm, died Sunday. He was 67.

USA Swimming said Wielgus died in Colorado Springs of complications from colon cancer. The cancer was first diagnosed in 2006, and Wielgus underwent regular chemotherapy while leading USA Swimming to record growth. He was due to retire in August.

He had announced his planned retirement in early January on the same day he learned he’d been approved to use a new cancer drug that’s in clinical trial.

“Chuck fought a long and hard battle with amazing grace and optimism, and will be missed,” U.S. Olympic Committee CEO Scott Blackmun said.

Wielgus was the longest-tenured leader among U.S. Olympic organizations. The 156 medals represent about one-third of America’s overall total from the last five Olympics.

During his two decades, USA Swimming’s revenue increased by about 600 percent, and its four-year, Olympic-cycle budget grew from $35 million to nearly $160 million. Membership more than doubled, to 400,000-plus, and Wielgus helped turn swimming’s Olympic trials into a showcase event. The 2016 trials sold out more than 200,000 tickets.

Wielgus came under fire in recent years for his handling of numerous sexual-abuse cases against the organization, with some calling for his resignation. After saying he had done nothing wrong in a defiant TV interview in 2010, he apologized four years later, writing in a blog: “I wish my eyes had been more open to the individual stories of the horrors of sexual abuse. I wish I had known more so perhaps I could have done more.”

The national governing body said current assistant executive director Mike Unger will serve as interim executive director. Unger has taken an active role in helping run the organization while Wielgus was dealing with his illness in recent years.

Wielgus’ vision to promote swimming to wider audiences resulted in securing year-round television coverage of major events, including the Pro Swim Series, national and world championships, U.S. Olympic Trials, Pan Pacific championships and Duel in the Pool.

During his tenure, the annual Golden Goggle Awards and fundraiser began to recognize that year’s accomplishments.

“Chuck was one of the finest CEOs in all of sport and his leadership of USA Swimming has made it the premier national governing body in the Olympic movement,” USA Swimming board of directors chairman Jim Sheehan said. “Chuck’s selflessness, compassion and intelligence have been hallmarks of his work with the staff, Board of Directors, athletes, coaches and volunteers of USA Swimming.”

Wielgus helped create the USA Swimming Foundation, which provides financial support for national team athletes and helps to save lives through swim lessons with the Make a Splash initiative. He served as chief executive officer when it began in 2004.

“An amazing leader, an incredible mentor, a wonderful friend. RIP Chuck,” three-time Olympic gold medalist Rowdy Gaines tweeted.

Before joining USA Swimming, Wielgus was executive director of the Senior PGA Tour Tournament Directors Association. From 1989-96, he was executive director of United States Canoe and Kayak, the national governing body for that Olympic sport.

From 1983-89, he was executive director of the Hilton Head Island Recreation Association, where he led the effort to produce the master plan for the South Carolina resort island’s public recreation facilities and sports programs.

He is survived by his wife, Nancy, daughters Savannah and Shelby; sons Chip and Tommy; and four grandchildren.

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