Meryl Davis, Charlie White

Meryl Davis, Charlie White take first dance toward record title

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Meryl Davis and Charlie White began what’s expected to be a record-breaking weekend with the highest short dance score in U.S. Championships history on Friday.

Davis and White posted 80.69 points for a 7.28-point lead over a hopeless field at TD Garden in Boston. They’re on pace to earn their sixth straight national title on Saturday, breaking a tie with four past couples who won five championships.

“I think that today we really reached a comfort level with this program that we haven’t achieved in competition so far,” Davis told reporters. “We feel really confident.”

U.S. Championships schedule, broadcast times

The reigning world champions who haven’t lost anywhere in almost two years put up a fast-paced but flowing dance to “My Fair Lady.”

Davis and White could plunge in the free dance Saturday and still be named to the U.S. Olympic Team, which will include three couples overall.

The two next highest couples in the standings are expected to join Davis and White in Sochi. After the short program, that would be Madison Chock and 2010 Olympian Evan Bates and siblings Alex and Maia Shibutani

Chock and Bates and the Shibutanis have been the top U.S. ice dancers behind Davis and White this season.

Chock and Bates posted a personal-best 73.41 points for second place. Bates finished 11th at the 2010 Olympics with partner Emily Samuelson, suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in September 2010 and changed partners to Chock in summer 2011.

They were second at the 2013 U.S. Championships behind Davis and White and won two bronze medals in international Grand Prix events this season.

Chock skated with sore shoulders after taking a hard fall in practice Thursday, crashing into the boards.

“Our coach just said, ‘Skate to win,'” Bates said. “He wants us to be pushing upwards toward Meryl and Charlie.”

The Shibutanis, who have skated together for 10 years, scored 68 points after struggling on twizzles during a jazzy dance to Michael Buble.

The affectionately known ShibSibs are the 2011 world bronze medalists and haven’t finished lower than third in their three senior-level U.S. Championships appearances.

“It definitely wasn’t our best,” Alex said. “We left some points out there.”

The top couple looking to move into the top three Saturday will be Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, who placed fourth and third at the last two U.S. Championships. They’re 1.31 points behind the Shibutanis.

Short Dance
1. Meryl Davis/Charlie White — 80.69
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates — 73.41
3. Alex Shibutani/Maia Shibutani — 68.00
4. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 66.69
5. Alexandra Aldridge/Daniel Eaton — 63.71
6. Lynn Kriengkrairut/Logan Giulietti-Schmitt — 61.22

Plushenko changes mind about Sochi

In her Captain America suit, Lindsey Vonn finally ready to attack

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CORTINA D’AMPEZZO, Italy (AP) — The Olympic downhill is little more than a month away, and Lindsey Vonn is finally ready to start attacking at 100 percent again.

Forget that unusual image of the 78-time World Cup winner skiing cautiously amid difficult weather conditions in Austria last weekend.

Back on one of her favorite courses — she holds a record 11 wins in Cortina — Vonn is not planning to hold anything back entering a set of three speed races this weekend: downhills Friday and Saturday and then a super-G on Sunday (full broadcast schedule).

“This snow is perfect. This hill is perfect. I have a lot of confidence here,” Vonn said Thursday after dominating downhill training for the second consecutive day.

“It’s a place where I can definitely push myself and ski more like my 100 percent self. I don’t need to be careful. I don’t need to worry about the risks. I’m just skiing like normal and I’m back to normal. This is how I ski when I am skiing well. It’s not like I’m not skiing well.”

In both training runs, Vonn’s advantage was nearly a full second — an eternity in ski racing.

It was a vast improvement from the ninth and 27th places that Vonn recorded in Bad Kleinkirchheim in a super-G and downhill, respectively, last weekend.

“Everything is good. I love racing here, and it’s always fun for me to be here. It’s beautiful. It’s hard not to be happy,” said Vonn, who is wearing a Captain America themed racing suit this weekend with a big white star on her chest.

Aiming to save her best for the Feb. 21 downhill in PyeongChang, Vonn has had only one win this season — a super-G in Val d’Isere, France, more than a month ago.

She had a difficult start to the season with two crashes in Lake Louise, Alberta, then jarred her back in St. Moritz, Switzerland.

A day after her win in Val d’Isere, Vonn sat out another super-G because she didn’t feel comfortable with the conditions. Then she took four weeks off before returning in Bad Klein.

The two training runs in Cortina have shown that Vonn is still capable of taking risks when she wants to.

“My whole career I’ve never had a problem going to 100 percent,” Vonn said. “It’s being smart and controlling myself that has always been a problem. I feel like I’ve finally learned my lesson, and I’ve been taking it easy to make sure that I can make it to the Olympics. Flipping the switch is something that comes very naturally to me.”

But how will she cope if the conditions in PyeongChang are difficult?

“That’s what I’m working on with my equipment right now. I’ve been testing some things and trying to get a setup that I’m more comfortable with,” Vonn said. “I definitely was not comfortable and not comfortable risking anything. So I think that once I find a setup that’s a little bit better for icier conditions — just in case — then I’ll be ready for any condition in PyeongChang.”

With the Olympics in mind, Vonn set aside a pair of skis that she tested on icy conditions in PyeongChang last season.

“I feel like I need a little bit more testing, but in general I’m ready for any condition,” she said.

With the women’s technical events being held before the speed races in PyeongChang — the opposite from recent Olympics, Vonn will be able to ease her way into the Games.

She won’t race slalom but may enter the giant slalom to get a taste of the competition before going for gold in the super-G, downhill and super combined.

“Three, maybe four (events),” Vonn said. “It just depends on how I feel.”

Also this weekend, overall World Cup leader Mikaela Shiffrin is entering the Cortina downhill for the first time, having finished fourth in the super-G on her first visit to Cortina last season.

Showing rapid improvement, Shiffrin moved up from 13th in the opening training run to fifth Thursday.

“I’m getting more and more comfortable, and from here on out it’s just about the timing and hitting my switches in the right spot,” said Shiffrin, who claimed the first downhill victory of her career in Lake Louise in November.

Like Vonn, Shiffrin is using this weekend as a dry run for the Olympics.

“It’s important to be able to learn a track really well,” Shiffrin said. “I haven’t skied the Olympic track as well. So it’s sort of the same kind of thing where I’m trying to figure it out — inspect it, visualize it, ski it the way that I want to. And if I can execute that then I’ll feel more comfortable doing the speed at the Olympics.”

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Yevgenia Medvedeva trails at European Championships

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Yevgenia Medvedeva came back from a broken foot to an unfamiliar place — trailing at a figure skating competition.

The Russian, undefeated for more than two years, had a minor error — stumbling out of a double Axel landing — and is second to training partner Alina Zagitova by 1.7 points after the European Championships short program in Moscow.

Medvedeva is competing for the first time since November.

She withdrew from two December events — the Grand Prix Final and the Russian Championships — with the injury but is still expected to compete in the PyeongChang Olympics.

She was beaten in a program Thursday for the first time since Gracie Gold topped the 2016 World Championships short program.

Zagitova, the 15-year-old world junior champion, tallied 80.27 points, the third-best under a 14-year-old judging system. Medvedeva has the two highest scores, both set in 2017.

Italian Carolina Kostner, the Sochi Olympic bronze medalist, is third going into Saturday’s free skate (12:30 p.m. ET, Olympic Channel: Home of Team USA and NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app for subscribers).

Kostner, at her 14th European Championships, scored a personal-best 78.30 points.

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